Marquardt's career on the upswing at 170

Nate Marquardt, left, knocked out Tyron Woodley in July to win the Strikeforce welterweight title. Esther Lin/Getty Images

One element to being a successful professional athlete is learning how to handle the ups and the downs that periodically occur throughout one's career.

No mixed martial artist is more adept at placing the good in proper perspective and overcoming the bad than Nate Marquardt.

He has been to the mountaintop as the King of Pancrase middleweight champion. On the flip side, Marquardt has come up short several times in his attempt to claim the 185-pound belt in the UFC, whether in title bouts or eliminators.

He has also experienced shortcomings outside the cage -- testing positive for a banned substance after his UFC debut in 2005. In June 2011, Marquardt was removed from a UFC event that he was scheduled to headline after failing to receive medical clearance by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission when his testosterone levels exceeded the required limit.

Marquardt was released by UFC shortly thereafter. It marked the lowest point of his career.

But the 33-year-old Marquardt is a resilient man. He refused to give up on himself and began focusing on redemption.

It didn't take him long to accomplish his goal.

Marquardt rededicated himself in the gym and made the move from middleweight to welterweight. In July 2012, in his first appearance at 170 pounds, Marquardt knocked out Tyron Woodley to claim the vacant Strikeforce welterweight title.

It was the most impressive performance of Marquardt's pro career. At 170, he looked sharper, faster and stronger. While Marquardt has had solid performances at middleweight, against Woodley he looked unbeatable.

On that night, Marquardt put all his demons to rest. Regardless of any lingering negative feelings some people have of him, Marquardt likes the image he sees in the mirror each morning.

Now Marquardt is focused on taking his career to higher levels, starting Saturday night when he makes the first defense of his welterweight title against Tarec Saffiedine in Oklahoma City.

"I feel that happened in my last fight -- that was kind of like my redemption," Marquardt told ESPN.com. "So I'm not really holding on to that stuff. I'm moving forward and looking at getting bigger and better fights. I want to be the best that I can be in this sport, and I haven't had the opportunity to do that yet.

"So I can't wait for this upcoming fight and the one after that and the one after that."

With Saturday night's event marking the end of Strikeforce, Marquardt will be among those fighters moving to UFC. He knows that beating Saffiedine will place him one step closer to achieving his ultimate goal of becoming a UFC champion.

Despite his close relationship with UFC 170-pound champion Georges St-Pierre, Marquardt doesn't pull any punches when the topic of facing his friend for the belt comes up.

"I've trained with Georges since before he got the UFC welterweight title," Marquardt said. "I've trained with him for every one of his fights, and he's trained with me for every one of my fights. There's definitely a bond there."

Marquardt (32-10-2) wants to be UFC champion and won't let anything -- or anyone -- stand in his way.

"That's my goal [becoming UFC welterweight champion]," he said. "I'm not in position to turn down a fight, so I guess I'd have to fight whoever they put in front of me to fight for that belt."

If that fight were to materialize, it could mark the toughest of St-Pierre's career. In addition to the familiarity between the fighters, Marquardt might be in the best physical condition of his career.

"[Fighting at 170] is just better for my body, my build," said Marquardt, who has added gymnastics to his workout routine. "When my walking-around weight gets below 190, I just feel like I can perform a lot better. I have a lot more cardio, and my strength doesn't suffer and my explosiveness goes up. And my endurance just goes through the roof, and that's the biggest difference. I feel like a better athlete at 170."

Being in supreme physical condition with thoughts of winning a UFC title are all well and good, but it will fall by the wayside if Marquardt doesn't defeat Saffiedine on Saturday night.

Marquardt is confident heading into the fight, but he is wise enough not to take Saffiedine (13-3) for granted and expects a much different fight than the one he had against Woodley.

"The Woodley fight -- stylistically it's pretty much the opposite of Tarec," Marquardt said. "Tyron is more of a wrestler. Tyron is more explosive and quicker; Saffiedine is more of a setup guy who likes striking more than Tyron. Tarec's not as good on his offensive wrestling.

"But [Saffiedine] looks very tough. He looks resilient. He looks tough to hold down. Even Tyron couldn't hold him down. I think he's a very tough guy, a very skilled fighter. I really feel like anywhere the fight goes I have my own attacks that I can use and I can defeat him in certain areas. My thing is, wherever the fight goes, I am prepared to do damage.”

Saturday night will serve as the latest example that Marquardt's career is back on the upswing.