It was the year Nate Marquardt probably wants to forget. And after 12 months of commission issues, a release from the UFC, a signing with a British organization, and a few canceled fights, all highly publicized and well-documented, the Colorado contender just wants to get back to fighting, which he will do this Saturday night in Portland, Oregon, debuting in Strikeforce against Tyron Woodley.
“I’ve had to put my faith in God, and it’s really strengthened my faith and I feel really blessed to be where I’m at right now and fighting for a world title,” said Marquardt, who will battle the unbeaten Woodley for the vacant welterweight belt. “There were times when we worried whether we were gonna be able to pay the mortgage and things like that, but I just feel like I’ve been taken care of, and I’m just very grateful.”
At 33, Marquardt is probably in his fighting prime, winner of five of his last seven bouts, with the only losses coming against recent world middleweight title challengers Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami. So when Marquardt was released from the UFC after not getting licensed for his June 2011 welterweight debut with Rick Story, it didn’t just send shockwaves through the mixed martial arts world; it stunned Marquardt, who now had to find a way to put food on the table for his family and keep his career on the upswing. It’s a situation where he found out in a hurry who his friends were, and a lot of those who did stick by Nate “The Great” were his legion of fans, a bright spot in a dark time.
“It was great,” he said. “You can tell that I have some really super loyal supportive fans, and they’ve been telling me how excited they are to watch this fight, and it’s very encouraging.”
But before he could make it to this point as the co-main event on a major Strikeforce show, he had some more hurdles to maneuver past.
“I’ve had three different fights lined up that fell through, so I’ve had a whole lot of training and just never had a fight,” said Marquardt, who signed briefly with the UK’s BAMMA organization in his post-UFC hiatus before being released from his contract due to the movement of his debut with his promotion. It’s probably not what the 13-year veteran and longtime contender expected to be dealing with at this point in his career.
“I think it’s pretty rare to happen at this stage, just because so much is at stake for guys that they’re not gonna pull out of fights and nothing’s gonna happen with the show,” he said. “I can look at the positives in it though. Even though I haven’t had a fight, I think it’s a good thing that I had things lined up so I wasn’t too relaxed. I was training the whole time and ramping up and then taking time off and ramping back up, so I think it’s been good for my body.”
And after signing with Strikeforce earlier this year and getting another opportunity to make his welterweight debut, Marquardt feels even better about his first foray into the 170-pound division.
“The diet for this fight was a lot easier on me than the diet for Story,” he said. “The cut was not too bad, but I really struggled with the diet because I was so strict. I was concerned and I wanted to make sure I made weight, and I wasn’t listening to my body when it needed more than I was giving it. This time I listened to my body a lot more and I’m actually ahead of schedule as far as my weight, and it hasn’t been that hard. I’ve been able to eat, and that’s definitely a positive.”
If he sounds confident, he is, and if you think he’s happy and relieved to be back on the big stage and fighting again, that’s a double yes. And while the year away wasn’t what he hoped for when he decided to move to welterweight, he does have a new start in Strikeforce and an opportunity to help expose the brand to even more people now and in the future.
“I always feel that responsibility,” he said. “That’s pretty much part of your job to build the brand of whoever you’re fighting for, as well as your sponsors. If it wasn’t for things like that, you wouldn’t be getting paid, so that’s part of your job.”
The most important part comes Saturday though, and in Woodley, Marquardt will be facing a hungry lion eager to add the veteran’s name to his resume while picking up his first major title in the process. Marquardt can respect that attitude and his opponent’s skills, but he’s not showing up in Portland to lose.
“He (Woodley) is tough, a good wrestler, and he’s very athletic, but at the same time, I don’t see that he has the tools that I have,” said Marquardt. “He’s lacking the striking experience, he’s lacking in the ground experience, and just the overall fight experience. He has 10 fights, and I know where I was at when I had 10 fights. That’s gonna be the difference in this fight, and besides that, I just want this so bad, and he can come like Superman, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m gonna beat this guy because I want it.”
It’s been a long wait for Nate Marquardt and the way he sees it, someone’s going to have to pay for that year off. That someone is Tyron Woodley, and he can’t wait to finally put the gloves back on.
“That victorious feeling after the fight, I can’t wait to have that,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that, and that sense of accomplishment.”