Commentary

Sanchez misses KO but gains respect

Updated: March 4, 2011, 9:13 PM ET
By Franklin McNeil | ESPN.com

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann promised to give everything they had Thursday night at the KFC Yum Center, and they stayed true to their words.

Sanchez and Kampmann put on a welterweight fight that MMA fans will be talking about for a long time. They threw caution to the wind and punched and kicked each other for a full 15 minutes. When the final bell rang, Sanchez's face was a bruised and bloody mess. But the look on his face didn't sway the judges against him in any way, as he was awarded a 29-28 victory across the board.

But earning the win and putting on an impressive showing wasn't the only agenda that Sanchez (25-4-0) had entering the cage. He wanted to finish Kampmann. Sanchez is on a mission to get a welterweight title fight, and he believed that the quickest path to reaching that goal was to dispose of Kampmann early.

He failed to do that but might have helped his cause nonetheless. UFC president Dana White was so enthralled with the action Sanchez and Kampmann delivered that he increased their fight-of-the-night bonuses from $40,000 to 60,000, then gave each fighter an additional $100,000.

And White still isn't done rewarding them: Sanchez and Kampmann will remain high on the 170-pound contender list.

"This is one of those fights where there is no loser," White told ESPN.com. "I thought Diego Sanchez won the fight. They're going to make more money than they were paid tonight. We're not done with them yet.

"These two are among the best in the welterweight division. After a fight like that, they are both still in the mix."

White's reaction to the fight comes as no surprise. Despite their prefight promises to go all out, no one could have expected Sanchez and Kampmann to deliver so much excitement.

The fight was spent mostly on the feet, just where Kampmann (17-5-0) wanted it. He stuffed nearly every takedown attempt Sanchez threw at him.

[+] EnlargeDeigo Sanchez
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesDiego Danchez dished out about as much leather as he dined on for three rounds.

But staying off the ground didn't make the fight any easier for Kampmann, whose face also showed its share of cuts and bruises. Sanchez ate several hard knees in the opening round that had blood flowing from his mouth.

Entering the second, Kampmann appeared on his way toward victory. But he wasn't facing the Sanchez who once devoted as much time to partying as he did preparing for fights.

Sanchez said before this bout that he is a changed man, a more mature fighter. Judging by his performance, his priorities are in order now.

In the second round, a bloody Sanchez picked up the pace. He continued to eat knees from Kampmann; one connected so cleanly that Sanchez's right eye immediately began to swell. But the damage served to further fuel Sanchez's determination. He fought harder and started to throw left-right combinations.

Most of his punches missed their mark, but some landed. The 8,319 in attendance responded by standing on their feet and cheering loudly. The noise was deafening, and Sanchez was soaking it up. After losing the opening round on each of the judges' scorecards, all three gave him the second and third.

Sanchez didn't get the finish he craved but might have gotten the only other result that is more satisfying: a memorable slugfest.

"A lot of UFC fighters dream of getting in there and finishing a fight in the first round," Sanchez said. "But it's fights like I had tonight, when you're like, 'Yeah, that was a war.' Those are the ones you don't forget. Whether you're hurt or whether you're cut, you don't forget these. They're fun."

There's no word yet on whom Sanchez or Kampmann will face next. But UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is sure to give a rematch much consideration.

It's not a stretch to assume that Kampmann, who believes he deserved the decision, would welcome another crack at Sanchez.

Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.