Defining Nate Marquardt

By Brian Knapp Jan 24, 2010
As he approaches a critical time in his professional mixed martial arts career, Nate Marquardt seems more and more like a man who has grown comfortable in his own skin.

The 30-year-old middleweight contender will tackle Chael Sonnen in the UFC 109 “Relentless” co-main event on Feb. 6 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Marquardt believes a victory over the Team Quest veteran, decisive or otherwise, will position him for a second crack at UFC gold.

“I was told that,” Marquardt says. “I think that’s what fans are going to want.”

For nearly three years, he has patiently chased a rematch with UFC middleweight king Anderson Silva, even as fighters many viewed as less deserving -- Vitor Belfort being the latest -- leapfrogged him in the 185-pound pecking order. Marquardt, though he made his desires known, never walked out of step with his core values.

“I feel like all I can really control is my effort,” he says. “As long as I’m giving 100 percent of myself, I can’t really worry about anything else. That kind of stuff’s out of my hands; it’s in God’s hands.”

Marquardt remains grounded by a structured home life that includes a 10-year-old daughter from a previous relationship and a devoted wife due to give birth to their first child in May. The product of a broken home -- his parents divorced when he was 9 -- he thinks the foundations he has nurtured away from fighting have directly contributed to his success inside the cage. Stability can work wonders.

“They definitely help me stay grounded,” Marquardt says. “I don’t have anything else to worry about, except fighting and providing for my family. That’s all I can do. My family supports me; they put up with a lot.”

Personal responsibility keeps Marquardt focused.

“Sometimes, when fighting’s all you have, it puts too much pressure on you, puts things kind of out of perspective,” he says. “I know there are things in this world more important than fighting, and that definitely helps out. It’s just a fight; it’s not the end of the world. The thing that’s most important to me is my family. They’ve become my motivation.”

During his time inside the Octagon, Marquardt has experienced the highest of highs -- a six-fight winning streak that culminated in his first UFC title bout in July 2007 -- and the lowest of lows -- his first-round technical knockout loss to Silva in the UFC 73 co-main event. Since that defeat, he has rattled off four wins in five fights and has become increasingly dominant with each outing. In August, he leveled the unbeaten Demian Maia in 21 seconds at UFC 102. He was certain the one-punch knockout had sewn up a rematch with Silva. Matchmakers had other ideas.

“I was pretty sure that I had earned another title shot,” Marquardt says, “but that’s not the way it worked out.”

Instead, the UFC offered the proverbial olive branch: a championship elimination bout against Dan Henderson, still the only man to simultaneously hold major titles in two different weight classes. However, contract negotiations with the former Pride Fighting Championships superstar ran aground, and Henderson packed his bags for Strikeforce. Marquardt was left empty-handed -- again.

“I was pretty excited about the Henderson fight, too,” he says. “That was kind of a good consolation prize. When that didn’t happen, I was disappointed, but I’m over that now.”

Sonnen, one of the sport’s most polished and effective wrestlers, has Marquardt’s undivided attention. The 32-year-old middleweight has delivered back-to-back wins over former International Fight League champion Dan Miller and the world-ranked Yushin Okami, launching himself into title contention. Marquardt -- who trains with heavyweight Shane Carwin, a former Div. II national wrestling champion, and UFC welterweight titleholder Georges St. Pierre, perhaps the best functional wrestler in MMA -- understands the considerable threat Sonnen poses.

“He’s a very good wrestler,” he says. “I have to make sure my wrestling is where it needs to be. I’ve brushed up on it, fixing any mistakes and making sure my timing and reactions are good. He’s definitely a grinder. I have to use the right strategy and not let him push me around the ring.”

Greg Jackson, Marquardt’s longtime trainer and mentor, agrees, especially with the stakes so high.

“Certainly, Chael Sonnen is no joke; he just beat Okami,” Jackson says. “He’s a great fighter. He’s a great grinder. He gets in there and he’s a workhorse, and he offers us a lot of threats. If we do get past him, then we have a whole new challenge, but that’s what Nate wants to do. I think Nate wants to prove that he’s the best, and I think he’s on the road to doing it.”

Even if Marquardt defeats Sonnen, a rematch with Silva remains far from a forgone conclusion. The incomparable Brazilian has his own hurdle to clear, as he expects to meet the revitalized Belfort at UFC 112 in April.

“I definitely would prefer to fight Anderson, because he beat me before,” Marquardt says. “At the same time, if Vitor beats him … I’d be happy with either one of those scenarios.”

Should Silva survive his latest test, extend his unprecedented streak of success inside the Octagon and move on to an anticipated rematch with Marquardt, the former middleweight King of Pancrase believes a far different fight would materialize between champion and challenger.

“The main difference is, mentally, I’d be a completely different fighter,” he says. “The first time we fought, I was kind of stuck in a rut, thinking I couldn’t [afford to] lose. I got to where I didn’t want to overcommit, and it took away a lot of my aggression. Since I’ve gone back to my old style, I’ve been finishing guys.”

Marquardt admits waiting for the rematch has tested his patience.

“The thing that makes it hard is I don’t feel like I did my best against him,” he says. “If I had, I think I could have and would have beaten him, even back then. Now that I’ve improved so much, it makes me even more eager to face him again.”

Jackson, who has attracted some of the world’s most decorated martial artists to his Albuquerque, N.M., mecca, remains his most ardent supporter.

“I’m a 100 percent believer in Nate Marquardt,” he says. “I think he’s just amazing and getting better every fight. The important thing with Nate is to execute smart game plans and be really creative. Nate is such a creative fighter that if he stays within the parameters of the game plan and just lets himself go and be creative and open up and have a lot of fun, I think he can beat anybody.”
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