Marquardt ready for another title shot

Nate “The Great” Marquardt will be in familiar territory on Saturday night at UFC 122 when he faces Yushin Okami in a title-contender clash.

He’s previously fought title-contender bouts with the reward being a shot at the champ; Anderson Silva. Earlier this year, he clashed with Chael Sonnen for that much-prized championship opportunity. Unfortunately for the middleweight, he lost the fight via decision to the always-controversial Sonnen. But in doing so, he took home some valuable lessons that have, at least in his eyes, propelled him back into championship-contender shape. If in a year’s time, Marquardt is on a significant winning streak with the middleweight belt secured snuggly around his waist, it could be said that his fight against Sonnen was the catalyst that propelled Marquardt into a champion-caliber fighter.

“When I lost to Chael, one of the things I walked away with was that it reminded me how badly I wanted to be a champion,” Marquardt told ESPNDallas.com. “And I think that was something that I started to lose sight of a little bit, and now I have that fire and desire back.”

Back in September, ESPNDallas.com asked Marquardt if he was anxious or frustrated that his opportunity at the belt could be over a year away. With Belfort and Okami fighting for a shot at the belt and Silva and Sonnen scheduled for a championship rematch, it was likely that Marquardt would have to wait until possibly next summer before he could fight for the title. In a somewhat foreshadowing response, Marquardt plainly indicated “that anything can happen in MMA.”

Not surprisingly, the long time UFC vet was correct. Chael Sonnen’s positive steroid test threw a wrench into the entire middleweight plan. Belfort was bumped up to fight Silva for the belt and Marquardt was slotted to take on Okami in the title-contender bout. It’s not necessarily how the former King of Pancrase champ had it planned out, but he’s happy nonetheless.

“I’m very excited with the way it went down,” Marquardt said. “It’s unfortunate for Chael or whatever, but other than that I’m very happy to be getting the opportunity now. I was ready to wait if that is what I would have to do but at the same time I’m very happy that it is happening this soon.”

Marquardt has fought once since his Sonnen loss; a memorable bout -- for all of the wrong reasons -- against Rousimar Palhares. Palhares accused the middleweight contender of “greasing," which makes it more difficult to control a fighter in grappling situations. At one point during their September fight, Palhares went for a heel-hook submission that Marquardt was quickly able to escape. At the moment where Marquardt was about to a delivering a barrage of punches to the face of the Brazilian, Palhares attempted to get the attention of the referee, Herb Dean, in order to point out the accusation. Unfortunately for Palhares, the fight was not intervened, and Marquardt finished his opponent off with a multitude of punches earning the TKO win in the first round. Immediately after the end of the bout, the referee, fight doctor, and other state and UFC officials concluded that there were no illegal substances on the body of Marquardt.

“As soon as the fight was over, I was really excited,” Marquardt explained. “But then all of a sudden he came over and was pointing at my shins or whatever. I figured out what he was saying and figured out that’s why he was taking his eyes off of me. It definitely took away from the win. It wasn’t as sweet of a victory as it should have been; beating a tough guy like that, but at the same time a win is a win.”

Despite the quick and controversial end the fight, the 31-year-old Marquardt indicated that the bout showed that he was certainly back on the right track.

“I felt very good going into that fight,” Marquardt said. “Mentally I felt strong. I felt sharp. I was following the game plan perfectly, which is one thing that I had to work on [from the Sonnen fight]. I was very happy with how I was fighting that night.”

Marquardt will be meeting fellow top-five middleweight, Yushin Okami, at UFC 122 this weekend in Germany. Although Palhares is a decent challenge for any 185 pounder, Okami will be a significant test for the Denver resident. Deservedly so, a championship title shot is on the line.

“He’s a tough fighter,” Marquardt said. “He’s tall and strong. He’s got a good base. He’s well rounded. He’s patient. He controls the distance and the pace of the fight very well. For sure, that’s one of my jobs when I fight him is to force him to fight a different paced fight.”

Although Marquardt, just like Okami, will earn a middleweight championship bout with a win on Saturday night, the pressure to come away with the victory seems to be placed squarely on the shoulders of Okami. The Japanese native has indicated that this might be his last opportunity to fight for a belt. He’s also said that he wants to be the first ever Japanese UFC champ. With the furthering of his career and the respect for his country on the line, will Okami fold under the weight or will rise to the challenge?

“Depends on how he deals with [the pressure],” Marquardt explains. “If it causes him to change how he’s fighting, it might fall into my favor. If it causes him to add a lot of pressure to himself where he balls up and doesn’t want to make any mistakes, again it will fall into my favor. I’m not really worried about how he comes into the fight, I’m expecting Okami to be the best Okami we’ve ever seen and that’s who’ve I’ve been training for.”

Being successful in MMA means that you must be proficient in multiple combative disciplines; hence the word ‘Mixed’ in mixed martial arts. Marquardt feels that he is the more well-rounded fighter with more answers and more ways to finish than his Japanese counterpart. The fact that Marquardt’s gone 9-3 in the UFC, with losses to only Silva, Sonnen, and Leites says that he might just be right.

“[Okami’s] a very solid fighter with good basics and basics are the most important,” Marquardt explained. “That’s what’s gotten him this far. But I’m a different style fighter. I have a very good foundation as well, but I have a lot more ways to finish the fight and I go for them. I feel that I have a lot more tricks up my sleeve, whether it’s on the feet or on the ground or wrestling. I’m definitely a more dangerous fighter than he is.”

Marquardt has indicated repeatedly that he his prepared and ready for the challenge that awaits him in Germany. With a little luck on his side, a support-system rooting for him, and a self-driven desire to succeed, it’s awfully hard to bet against the UFC middleweight veteran, Nate “The Great”.

“You definitely need to be self motivated to compete at this high a level and become a champion,” Marquardt said. “At the same time, you have to have people there supporting you. You have to have circumstances that fall on your side. I believe that God’s led me to where I’m at. I can’t say I’ve done it on my own. I’ve had a lot of help along the way.”