(‘I’ve always wanted to do this!’)
by Cage Potato contributor Elias Cepeda
After spending all of 2009 making a strong case for himself as the UFC’s top middleweight contender, Nate Marquardt finds himself facing Chael Sonnen at UFC 109 while Vitor Belfort leapfrogs him for the title shot against Anderson Silva. In this exclusive interview Marquardt opens up about his dealings with the UFC, his thoughts on fighting Sonnen, and the bout with Dan Henderson that never materialized.
CagePotato.com: In your last fight you took on Demian Maia at UFC 102 and knocked him out in 21 seconds. I imagine you probably couldn’t be happier with that result?
Nate Marquardt: Totally (laughs). There wasn’t much more I could have asked for.
You’ve spoken before about training to do specifically what you ended up doing. Did the fight go the way you thought it would or were you surprised by the quickness?
I don’t think you could ever plan for a fight to end that quickly. When I gameplan I look for specific stuff that’s going to work on the guy that I’m comfortable doing. Other than that you can have a gameplan but it can’t be your only thing. You have to be a smart fighter and when something you weren’t training for happens you have to be able to change your game in the middle of the fight.
At the time of your last fight, it seemed possible that the winner would get a shot at middleweight champ Anderson Silva. Since that time a lot has happened. You won, in devastating fashion. The month prior, Dan Henderson had won a fight against Michael Bisping that seemed to also put him near the head of the line for a title shot. But then the talk was to give the shot to Vitor Belfort and have you and Henderson fight one another.
When it looked like that could happen, Henderson ended up not signing a new contract with the UFC and left for StrikeForce. What’s your take on Henderson leaving and all the fluidity in the title challenger scene at 185 in the last few months?
Honestly, they had offered me a fight with Dan for November and that was right after my last fight. I accepted it. It was on short notice but I was really excited about that fight. I was disappointed when it didn’t happen and he left but at the same time there’s so many guys to fight, so many big names and top level guys that one guy doesn’t affect the division too much, I would say.
Not too long ago Vitor Belfor did a video interview and was asked about you. He essentially agreed that you deserved a title shot more than he did at this point. Did you see that interview and what did you think?
Yeah, somebody showed me that interview. I have a lot of respect for Vitor. He’s a very humble guy and a very good fighter. He just said what was fair. Basically that I’ve been fighting in the middleweight division and of the contenders, or at least that I was more deserving than he. He was just saying that if any fighter deserved it, it would be me. I would be interested to see him fight Anderson. Its not that I don’t think he deserves it; I definitely feel like I should be next in line. But at the same time I think he could put on a good show.
Does it surprise you when a guy talks about you with such class like Vitor did, and does it make it harder to ultimately have to punch him in the face when you fight him?
(Laughs) Definitely, it’s surprising. A lot of guys talk crap and they will say they deserve a title shot more than anyone ‘cause they want the shot. And that’s understandable too. But it’s cool to see a guy say something complimentary. But once its time to fight I will have no problem punching him in the face. I’m sure it won’t be a problem for him either.
Speaking of possible psychological challenges, you’ve had to go from thinking you’d get a title shot to thinking you’d face Henderson to then thinking you’d fight Belfort or Silva to then fighting Sonnen. Has that been difficult to deal with and how have you?
I’ll tell you, it’s definitely disappointing but at the same time I get over it real quick especially when fighting a tough guy like Chael. He’s very tough and very dangerous. He’s beat top-level guys. He beat Yushin Okami, he pretty much dominated him. Every single fight he has lost he also pretty dominated the fights up until he loses. Even the fights he loses he basically wins them then gets caught. I’ve got to be on my ‘A’ game. I plan on finding his hole and taking advantage of that.
Throughout that whole time of uncertainty with your next fight and the title shot picture, what was the UFC’s communication with you like? Did you get word from them throughout or did you basically have to follow the news like everyone else by reading up?
That’s a good question. First of all most of the time I’m not directly dealing with Joe Silva and stuff like that. My manager handles a lot of that stuff. I think I hear a good amount of what’s going on from reading. It’s hard to know what they are thinking sometimes. When we didn’t get the Henderson fight then we just assumed if it wasn’t Henderson that it would be Vitor or Anderson but instead we got Chael Sonnen.
My manager was pretty upset. (laughs) He was real short with me and told me, “You know what, just go and beat this guy. It doesn’t matter who they give you. Just keep on beating guys until they have to give us a title shot.” He was real upset, I could tell.
One thing that is good with having a manager dealing with that stuff otherwise I’d be the one frustrated, the one pleading my case to Joe Silva asking for a bigger name and all that. I want to fight the toughest guys, not just the guys with the biggest names. It’s always nice to fight guys with the biggest names because it shoots your stock up but I want to fight the tough guys because that’s what I want to be. I want to be the best
So at the end of the day, you are happy to be fighting Sonnen?
Oh yeah, definitely. Especially since he just beat Okami who was the only one in the UFC who has a win over Anderson Silva, and he pretty much handled him. I know [Chael’s] a tough fighter and I have a big fight on my hands. That’s what I need, that’s what I want.
What have you been told as far as where you could go after this fight by the UFC?
I was told by my manager that Joe Silva told him is that if I win this fight I get a title shot. I’ll be honest, I’ve been told stuff before and it didn’t happen. I’m not saying it’s not going to happen but unless its in writing there’s no guarantee.
What do you think about Sonnen as a fighter?
Basically I can sum him up as what we call a “Grinder.” He’s very well rounded in all areas. He goes in and if his opponent pushes at 50% he’s pushing at 51%. He does just enough to beat the guy out, just enough to win the fight in all areas. Whether its takedowns or getting the guy on the ground with strikes, he gives just enough room to hit him and not enough room to let the guy up or to finish the fight, necessarily, just enough room to get the win. That’s how he gets wins; he controls guys.
That’s a totally different style than what I’m going with. I’m not looking to grind out a decision, I’m looking for a finish. I have the technique and ring control and ring dominance to negate his style and at the same time go for finishes.
You’re saying Chael is a well-rounded fighter and so are you. In fact, on paper, it may seem like you are more so than him. So are you willing to concede anything to him – I’m thinking specifically of wrestling here? That is, have you made peace with the notion that you might have to fight off your back because he might be a better wrestler?
Honestly, I don’t concede anything to him. The only area where he could possibly, and I’m not going to even say he could be better than me at wrestling because I don’t think it’s true. But wrestling is his strength but I’ve got world class guys in wrestling that I train with and I feel comfortable there and do very well. He was an Olympic alternate in Greco and a collegiate All-American so I know the level he’s at and I feel totally comfortable saying I don’t think he’s better than me at wrestling. I’m as good or better than him at wrestling.
I’m not saying he can’t take me down. He might be able to land a couple takedowns but that’s not the point. If he does, I’m going to be able to counter it catch him in a submission or be able to get back to my feet and wear him out while he’s taking me down.
You’ve put together a great run since losing to Anderson Silva and you’ve said that you have improved a lot. Silva himself recently said in an interview that he feels you are a totally different and much improved fighter since you faced each other. How, specifically, would you say you’ve improved and what would you tell fans to have them understand why you are so confident that you can now beat Silva?
Number one, I’ve improved so much since 2007 technically, I know, because fighters have gauges for themselves to know how much they are improving. I train with straight wrestlers, straight kickboxers and straight grapplers. I know how much I’m improving in comparison to these guys. Not only that, but I think that when I fought Anderson before I wasn’t fighting to my full potential even with the skills I had at that point.
Is the type of progress you are saying you’ve made just a natural result of time and training or have there been particular differences in your approach or training?
I think the combination of the two. I’m twice as good now as I was then. I’ve improved so much technically on my feet and my wrestling, ground, and strategy is better. I have more experience and I feel more explosive and more deadly in terms of KO power. My cardio is great and mentally I believe I’m stronger now.
I think its kind of both. You get better over the years as you learn more techniques, you get more experience and you understand how people move. The more people you train with the more styles you are exposed to the more you learn to deal with styles. Through the breakthroughs you make in training you can always tell how much you are improving and teammates let you know. If you’re sparring with a specific guy and you have a hard time with him for a year and then all of the sudden you have a breakthrough and you are able to put it on the guy then you can see progress.