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Sampo slated to test CFA strap

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

Josh Sampo doesn't call it, and won’t think of it, as a title defense.

“I’m fighting for it all over again, that’s how I see it,” Sampo said. “I’ll never get too complacent.”

The ‘it’ is the Championship Fighting Alliance title. Sampo (9-2) is the current flyweight champ and will have his first defense on Saturday. CFA 12 takes place in Miami and will be airing live on AXS-TV beginning at 8 pm.

Sampo faces a relative unknown in Sam Thao (7-1). Of course, Sampo was that relative unknown at one point too. Now he’s on the mind of many a MMA journalist and fan of the 125-pound division. He brings enough notoriety – ranked in the top 10 in the world by many outlets - to hold down the main event slot. It's an assignment that is bittersweet to “The Gremlin.”

“I hate it,” he said. “I’d like to be No. 3 and be done. I have to be there at 5 pm. and don’t fight until 10 pm. It’s kinda cool and it will get a few more eyes on me and the gym, which is what we need.”

No doubt Sampo will piggy-back off some of the eyes that will tune in to see the co-main event that features controversial transgender fighter Fallon Fox (3-0) against Ashlee Evans-Smith (1-0) in the women’s featherweight tournament final.

Sampo is on a 6-1 tear since losing to Mike French (albeit at bantamweight) by decision in his fourth pro fight in 2011. The beginning of 2012 saw the St. Charles MMA product go from upstart to legit contender.

He had a win in the bag over rising flyweight and UFC-vet Will Campuzano before suffering a KO in the third. Since then, Sampo’s run features wins over WEC vet Antonio Banuelos and a fifth-round submission finish of world-class wrestler Alexis Villa in a January fight that earned Sampo his title. In all, the 29-year-old has five wins by submission, four by decision.

“I feel like I am peaking at the right time,” Sampo said. “I’m ready to unleash the fury. I’m looking to get off first and hit (Thao) as much as possible. It will be controlled tenacity.”

Thao, who is in his early 30's, has notched four wins via some form of knockout and the remainder by decision. He is based out of Wisconsin and calls Rising Son MMA home.

“(Thao) is heavy handed, throws big, looping punches,” Sampo said. “He likes to walk forward. But if I implement my plan and fight my fight, it doesn't matter what he does.”

Thao made his pro debut in 2007 and earned three wins, including two victories over Roufusport fighter Omar Choudhury, before suffering a submission loss to Daniel Otero. Thao reeled off three more wins by 2010. But he has only fought twice since the start of 2010.

The only knock against Sampo is that his recent bouts have been against fighters on the ‘other’ end of their careers and the only flaw in Sampo's game could be his chin and Thao has more than enough pop to test that. The big question will be if Thao even gets a chance to let loose. Once ‘The Gremlin’ latches on it could be a quick night.

“You are going to see everything I can give from bell to bell,” Sampo said. “I’m going do my best to make sure it doesn't go to the judges.”

Sampo is joined on the trip by SCMMA teammate Matt Ricehouse and head coach Mike Rogers along with Muay Thai coach Patrick Christie and boxing coach J.D. Absheer.

A viewing party for the fight will be held at one of Sampo’s sponsors, the Tilted Kilt St. Charles, beginning at 8 pm.

Photo courtesy of Sara Levin Photography