I think Joe Rogan put it best when he said “Martin Kampmann is not going for a knockout…” That would be the best way to describe what happened at UFC 121 when Jake Shields somehow, someway walked away with a split decision victory over Martin Kampmann in Shields' UFC debut.
The fight was not particularly exciting at any point. The closest there came to being any real momentum swing was when Kampmann leveled Shields with a knee to the head in the second round causing him to fall to the ground. But instead of trying to focus on striking, which is Kampmann’s specialty. Kampmann wanted to beat Shields at his own game.
It was clear from the very beginning that Kampmann didn’t want to control the offense in this fight. He was either afraid of trying to strike and leaving himself open to a takedown from Shields or his plan was to take him down and make him submit.
Whatever the plan was, it didn’t work really well. Kampmann completely neutralized what is his greatest strength as a fighter and made the fight into a takedown and submission fight which is what Shields' biggest strength is.
Shields, in his UFC debut, wasn’t very impressive at all in this fight. He did take Kampmann down a couple times and did stay in the fight despite being exhausted about midway thru the second round. He had no power to him at all. In fact, it didn’t seem like he landed one solid punch or kick on Kampmann the entire fight.
Shields was competing at 170 pounds, down from 185 that he normally fights at. That 15-pound weight drop really made a huge difference. In his last fight with Strikeforce, Dan Henderson wore down in the second round while Shields was able to survive that fight in large part because of his stamina. However, here Shields was gassed. He had nothing left, his punches weren’t doing any damage at all and he couldn’t secure a submission.
The difference in the fight came from the takedown and ground game. Because Kampmann didn’t want to fight his own style, he played perfectly in to Shields hand. Kampmann wanted to get Shields to submit, but it became more and more clear that wasn’t going to happen and when he couldn’t secure it, it left a door open for Shields to get some takedowns and try and be the aggressor with submissions.
Even though he wasn’t able to get one locked in, he did just enough to take the edge in points over Kampmann with judge scores of 30-27 and 29-28 with the third judge giving the fight to Kampmann, 29-28.
All-in-all, not an impressive debut for Shields in the UFC and with his next going to be against the winner of December’s GSP-Koscheck fight, it is clear that Shields has a lot of work to do if he wants to be able to compete with either of those two men and have a shot at capturing the welterweight title.