Nate Marquardt plans on debuting a more aggressive look at 170 pounds. | Photo: Dave Mandel
For most of the past four years, Nate Marquardt has been on the short list of top contenders in the UFC’s middleweight division.
His first -- and only -- chance for gold at 185 pounds came at UFC 73 in 2007, when he succumbed to strikes from champion Anderson Silva at 4:50 of the opening round. For Silva, it was win number five in a 14-fight winning streak that continues to this day and has earned him the title of best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the eyes of many.
Marquardt, meanwhile, has come excruciatingly close to a rematch with “The Spider,” only to be turned away twice in top contender bouts: first by Chael Sonnen at UFC 109 and then by Yushin Okami at UFC 122. Although another quality win at middleweight could conceivably put the Coloradan right back on track to title contention, Marquardt has instead elected to try his hand as a welterweight. He makes his 170-pound debut on Sunday, when he faces Rick Story in the UFC Live 4 main event at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
The move is not a concession of failure by the former middleweight King of Pancrase. Instead, the drop in weight class came about as Marquardt gradually altered his diet and training regimen.
“I was always trying to put weight on so I could be a bigger guy in the [middleweight] division. I just think it wasn’t natural for my body,” he says. “We changed a little bit of the way I work out and I just kind of watched what I ate a little bit, as far as I would stop when I was [no longer] hungry instead of just eating as much as I could. It just came off really easy.”
Prior to his middleweight matchup with onetime International Fight League champion Dan Miller at UFC 128, it had become evident that the Grudge Training Center product could comfortably make the transition to welterweight. Marquardt defeated Miller by unanimous decision.
“I didn’t have to cut anything in the sauna,” Marquardt says. “I barely did a little diet for a couple days, and then I made weight without doing anything. That whole camp, I was walking around fairly light, probably seven or eight pounds less than what I had previously walked around at.”
Story stepped in on short notice when Marquardt’s originally scheduled opponent, Anthony Johnson, withdrew from the bout due to injury. While the matchup with Johnson offered some intriguing storylines -- Johnson was training with former Marquardt teammate Rashad Evans in Florida, and Marquardt and Johnson worked out together during filming of the upcoming release “Warrior” -- Story has emerged one of the division's fastest-rising stars.
The 26-year-old Washington native is riding a six-fight winning streak in the UFC, including a unanimous decision over Top 5 welterweight Thiago Alves on Memorial Day weekend. In that UFC 130 bout, Story controlled the tempo of the first two rounds with takedowns and fought effectively in the clinch. Perhaps most impressively, he survived a barrage of punches from the dangerous Brazilian in the final round. Wrestlers have given Marquardt problems in the past, and the welterweight division is loaded with potential roadblocks that excel in that area, including Story, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Jake Ellenberger.
A worst-case scenario for Marquardt is a repeat of the Sonnen fight, in which he was taken down at will by the Team Quest standout.
“I’ve always been trying to improve my wrestling,” Marquardt says. “That’s definitely something I’m aware of … [Story] has a decent wrestling background, so that’s something I’m prepared for: that I can stop his takedowns, that if he takes me down, I can submit him, sweep him or get up.”
Often the first bout after a significant weight cut is the most difficult, as the combatant can be drained come fight night. Marquardt does not expect to face such difficulties.
“I think a lot of the guys that try to cut down -- they’re really having to suck a lot of water weight and cut a lot of calories out of their diet,” he says. “If you do that, you feel horrible during your training. If you’re trying to cut too much water, then you can’t rehydrate completely and you’re gonna feel like crap. I don’t see that happening to me.”
If Marquardt is as successful in his new weight class as he was at middleweight, he could eventually be faced with a difficult decision. Georges St. Pierre is every bit the dominant champion at 170 pounds that Silva is at 185. However, St. Pierre is a friend and teammate of Marquardt’s. For now, Marquardt avoids the subject of a future meeting with St. Pierre, who made the trip to Colorado to help with the camp for Story.
“I’m not focused on that at all. I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the division. I’m just focused on this fight. After this fight, I’m sure I’ll get another top guy [if I win],” he says. “I’ll be very close to a title shot at that point. You never know what’s gonna happen. That’s not something we’ll focus on right now. That’s kind of an issue, but if it comes up, we’ll think about it and deal with it at that point.”
St. Pierre has a date with former Strikeforce welterweight king Nick Diaz scheduled for October, quieting the rumblings regarding a Silva-St. Pierre super fight for the time being. If the two transcendent champions ever do cross paths, Marquardt wants to see it happen at a catchweight of 180 pounds.
“I don’t think it’s fair to make Georges fight all the way up at 185,” he says. “I think that [a catchweight bout] would be fair, and that way, Anderson has to come in a little bit smaller. I think Georges has got a great style to beat Anderson and to compete against him.”
That fight remains more likely than a Marquardt rematch with Silva. The 32-year-old thinks the welterweight division suits him just fine.
“I think I’m just gonna be a more aggressive, tenacious, devastating fighter,” Marquadt says. “If you feel better, you can fight better. It’s gonna be a difference.”