Nathan Marquardt file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Anderson Silva's improbable come-from-behind victory over Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 had to come as a shock to those expecting Sonnen to grind out the fight's final two minutes in the same manner he had for most of the preceding four rounds.
Of course, Sonnen's dominance leading up to the Spider's Hail Mary submission probably caught those same viewers off guard too. Silva, the pound-for-pound kingpin, hadn't exactly been tested in his most recent bouts.
None of the events of Aug. 7 shocked perennial middleweight contender Nate Marquardt, however. The Colorado native has had an up close and personal view of the combatants -- losing to Silva at UFC 73 and to Sonnen at UFC 109 -- so he knew what to expect from both.
"The only thing that surprised me about the fight was that Anderson didn't use more footwork to (avoid) Chael's takedowns," he said. "I knew Chael was a much better wrestler and as soon as he got his hands on Silva that he would be able to take him down pretty much at will.
"The fact that he got triangled at the end really wasn't a big surprise either, because he's been triangled several times in his career, and he's kind of anti-learning jiu-jitsu."
With a Silva-Sonnen rematch likely in the works, Marquardt has some work to do before he can claim what he believes is his rightful place at the top of the 185-pound mountain.
"I think I'm at the top of the division, and any time you're at the top of the division there's only a handful of guys at the top. You're always one or two fights away from a title shot, and that's my goal," he said.
The work begins Sept. 15 with a UFC Fight Night 22 tussle against powerful Brazilian grappler Rousimar Palhares. Originally scheduled as part of the UFC 118 card in Boston, Marquardt-Palhares was given top billing on Fight Night after Alan Belcher pulled out of the scheduled headliner against Demian Maia due to a detached retina.
The change was for the best, Marquardt said: "Going to the main event of any UFC card is a huge step. Anybody in the UFC would be honored to be the main event of a card. I was honored that they picked our fight. I have been looking forward to putting on a show."
The Grudge MMA product has put on some memorable performances recently -- witness his 21-second KO of ground specialist Maia at UFC 102 and his brutal knee that led to a TKO of Wilson Gouveia at UFC 95. His February bout against Sonnen was a chance to reassert his claim as the top contender to Silva's throne.
Instead, Sonnen put on a dominant wrestling display and earned the title shot that many expected would go to Marquardt.
"I wouldn't say I overlooked Chael Sonnen, but he's definitely better than I thought he was going to be. Not only that, but I didn't follow our game plan. When you fight a wrestler there's a certain way to fight them, and I pretty much did the exact opposite."
Palhares presents a different type of challenge for the three-time King of Pancrase. Of the Brazilian’s 11 victories, eight have come by submission, including five by heel hook or ankle lock. Marquardt made a trip to Albuquerque, N.M., to help formulate a game plan with Greg Jackson to combat the Brazilian Top Team-affiliated fighter's strengths.
"That's (submission defense) included in the game plan," Marquardt said. "He's finished several guys in the UFC with leglocks and it'd be silly not to look at that, but that's not his only strength. ... He's a versatile grappler, so basically I went down to work with Greg and some of the guys down there to come up with a game plan."
Palhares recently served a 90-day suspension after failing to release his heel hook against Tomasz Drwal in a timely manner at UFC 111. Marquardt was once on the receiving end of a similar incident when Ricardo Almeida applied a guillotine choke and appeared to hold it after Marquardt submitted in a 2003 Pancrase bout. Marquardt threw a punch at Almeida once the hold was released and a scuffle ensued between the two corners.
Palhares' sketchy submission history is not something that concerns Marquardt.
"I don't care about that to really be honest. The way I think about it is that any time someone goes for a submission hold, or a joint lock or whatever it is, they're putting your body in danger. So I defend it with everything that I have. I don't need to worry about what he's done in his past fights because I'm not going to allow him to catch me."
Notables such as Rashad Evans, Georges St. Pierre and Todd Duffee have joined Marquardt's camp in Denver to assist in pre-fight preparation.
"It's always good to have training partners like that -- especially training partners like that who are willing to sacrifice their time and come down and help me specifically for my fight," he said.
Marquardt believes he will be able to put his well-rounded game to use against Palhares come fight night.
"I have skills in all areas,” he said. “It doesn't matter if they're a wrestler, I can take them down. Or if they're a grappler, I can go for a submission on them. Whatever it is, I need a mixture where I utilize all my skills.”