Nate Marquardt has signed a multifight, worldwide exclusive promotional deal with the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts, less than a month after he was dumped by Ultimate Fighting Championship, BAMMA vice president Liam Fisher told ESPN.com on Friday.
"I'm very excited to be working with BAMMA," Marquardt said. "They hold sports regulation in high regard and mandate it for their athletes. They are also known for signing top-level fighters and I want to fight the best. I can't wait to show everyone what I'm capable of in the welterweight division."
Marquardt (31-10-2) competed as a ranked middleweight contender for UFC from 2005 through June 2011, culminating in an unsuccessful title shot against Anderson Silva in 2007.
He was cut loose by UFC after he suddenly withdrew one day before a scheduled main event against Rick Story, after a New Jersey State Athletic Control Board blood test revealed elevated levels of testosterone, which Marquardt attributed to hormone replacement therapy.
The loss of a televised main event, in addition to what UFC president Dana White indicated were previous "second chances" for Marquardt, who tested positive for steroids in 2005 in Nevada, were cited as reasons for his dismissal.
A pair of U.S. promoters, Bellator Fighting Championship and ProElite, showed interest in Marquardt when he became available. But Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, while noting Marquardt's top-10 ranking and pedigree, said his organization was "not the best fit for Nate." And ProElite's interest waned as it opted against making a big splash in the free agent market, a source said.
However, BAMMA also expressed immediate interest in Marquardt when he became available.
"It's huge for us because Nate is a world-class fighter," Fisher said. "He's a very legitimate and current fighter. We're trying to grow and be a big organization. Having people like Nate on the roster means we can achieve that."
Fisher said the deal is among the most lucrative BAMMA has made with a fighter since it joined the UK MMA scene in 2009, though he declined to disclose the financial terms. Marquardt earned $45,000 to appear and another $45,000 for defeating Dan Miller at UFC 128 in his last bout promoted by Zuffa, LLC, UFC's corporate parent.
Neither the date nor an opponent have been confirmed for Marquardt's BAMMA debut, which could come as soon as the promotion's next event, Sept. 10 in Birmingham, England.
"If we do line him up for September," Fisher said, "I think his next fight will be in February. We've already penciled that in pending fitness."
Fisher indicated BAMMA's newest signee is also in the mix for an immediate title shot.
British welterweight Paul Daley, who will fight for Strikeforce on July 30 against Tyron Woodley, is also under contract to BAMMA. He was scheduled to compete for the organization's championship in February, but failed to make weight. The bout was changed to a non-title contest, which Daley won by knockout.
Marquardt-Daley is arguably the highest profile contest BAMMA could promote. Fisher, citing several factors, would not commit to making the bout at this time.
When Marquardt steps into the BAMMA cage, he'll do so in a locale that offers little in the way of MMA regulation, particularly as it applies to performance-enhancing drugs and basic medical testing.
Unrelated to the Marquardt signing, BAMMA has taken steps to get in front of that issue, Fisher said. Like the UFC when it promotes events in the UK, BAMMA has implemented and will cover the cost of blood work, MRI exams and medical screenings for its fighters. The company has also recently introduced mandatory performance-enhancing drug screens for title fights, as well as random pre- and post-event tests.
"Those are something we pay for ourselves," Fisher said. "We arrange with an independent body that actually goes ahead with those tests and they provide us with the results, then we have a board internally made up of four members that decide on what the outcome is if anyone is caught using PEDs.
"So that's really the step we've had to take as an organization to legitimize the sport over in the UK. Up until now no other promotion has done that. There isn't a governing body that's willing to do that, so it's something we felt was necessary. We decided to implement that and Nate will be a part of it."
Marquardt said his doctor first prescribed testosterone replacement therapy in August 2010. He fought under UFC regulatory supervision in Texas and England before applying for a therapeutic use exemption in New Jersey one month prior to out-pointing Miller on March 19.
Because the exemption was sought without time for New Jersey to satisfy its hormone therapy guidelines, the state monitored Marquardt as part of a 4½ month effort to determine the 32-year-old fighter's eligibility.
Marquardt's subsequent test failure means that while he's not currently suspended, he remains listed on the official record used by North American regulators as having his therapeutic use exemption denied in New Jersey. He is, however, free to fight where he pleases. Pennsylvania cleared Marquardt after his testosterone levels returned to normal in the immediate aftermath of his release by the UFC.
Asked how BAMMA intended to monitor fighters being treated with testosterone replacement therapy, Fisher said the promotion is currently engaged in that discussion.
"We definitely said that the random tests can occur between events, so we're going to try and work towards that," he said. "What I don't want this to turn into is some kind of witch hunt towards Nate -- if he comes to the UK he gets targeted because of what's happened previously.
"I think whatever we do is going to be a natural process towards our regulation as a country anyway. I don't think it will revolve around Nate. We'll see what stage we can get to before the next show."
Josh Gross covers mixed martial arts for ESPN.com.