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Exclusive: Nate Quarry Talks Back Surgery, Sponsor Troubles, and the Legend of “The Rockhammer”

(Man, I do not want to be the one to point out to Nate that the letter from Publishers Clearing House says he *might* have won ten million dollars.)

Nate Quarry takes on Jorge Rivera at the end of the month at Fight Night 21 in Charlotte, North Carolina, but there was a time not too long ago when a chronic back problem almost sidelined him for good. Recently “The Rock” sat down for an interview with Cage Potato to discuss the surgical procedure that likely saved his career, as well as his well-publicized beef with a former sponsor, and a special surprise he has in store for fans who still remember him as the only redeeming aspect of the infamous fight that saw Kalib Starnes run his way out of the UFC for good.

Your last fight against Tim Credeur was a great battle, you guys won Fight of the Night, but by the end you guys both looked like you had been to hell and back. As great as those fights are for the fans, do you ever think to yourself, Man, I don’t know how many of those I can do.

[Laughs] You know, I don’t think you can really go into this sport thinking too much about the end game. Part of the rush of the fight is living in the moment. You get so lost in what you’re doing. Fighting is one of those few times in your life where your goal is 100% clear. There’s nobody coming to stab you in the back. You don’t have to worry about your boss or your wife or your kids. You know that for the next fifteen minutes you have this guy who’s standing in front of you and he’s going to try and put you away. It’s such an incredible part of life to go through, to be so clear and single-minded.

To answer your question though, it’s great to get those first-round knockouts and finish the fight right away. But at the end of my career, I think it’s wars like that that I’m going to be proud to show my family. It shows them what I was willing to go through to fulfill my dreams and how far I was able to push myself.

It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed like your career might be over because of a back injury. Then you had surgery and were able to come back. What was going on there and what caused that trouble for you?

Really, like about 10 million other Americans, I was having these back problems. For me it was an ache in my lower back, and being a professional athlete it was a problem. I had just fought for the middleweight championship and I decided to go off the anti-inflammatories to see how bad it really was. I would say the pain was about a four out of ten. It’s not something where you’re screaming in pain, but it makes you just tired all day long. You’re grumpy, you’re not feeling good. I found out that I had degenerative disc disease, which means the disc was pretty much wearing away between my L2 and L3 vertebrae, so those two vertebrae were just grinding away at each other. It was brutal.

Does degenerative disc disease mean it was something genetic that you’d had your whole life?

When I say degenerative disc disease, to me it seems like a misnomer. People hear disease and think it’s something horrible. What it can be is being born with one disc, or in some cases, multiple discs, that are weaker than the others. I think with my lifestyle of working hard labor, blue-collar jobs and then training twice a day, it just sped up the degeneration of the disc. It’s something quite a few people suffer from.

How long was it really a problem for you before you had surgery?

I’d say it was probably a couple of years. I was doing everything I could because surgery is always the last thing that anyone wants to do. So I would go regularly to the chiropractor, I was very diligent about icing it down, and I was taking anti-inflammatories like Vioxx, which has since been taken off the market because it killed a bunch of people. I even went through a procedure that was almost like a medieval rack, where they would pull my lower body and upper body apart to try and regain the integrity of the disc. It wasn’t helping, and that’s when I started to look into surgery because my quality of life had just gone downhill. I could no longer train, which meant I could no longer fight, which meant I wasn’t making money to feed my family. My whole life was miserable.

And I gather that the surgery made a big difference, because now you’re back to fighting and winning again.

It was incredible. I remember before the surgery I’d try and do little things, like work in my yard. I was moving a bunch of rocks around and I would work for a day and then spend two days laid up in bed with icepacks on my back. Now I’m in the throes of preparing for my fight that’s a few weeks away and I have no problems at all.

What kind of a fight are you expecting out of Rivera?

I think this is just going to be a classic war. We’ll probably just meet in the center of the cage and just go all out. I’m surprised we’re not more of a headliner. I think this is just going to be a great fight that fans will love. Jorge has shown for years the kind of fighter he is, and when I go out to fight it’s always to put on show and win every second of every single round. It’s going to be a great fight.

Do you think it will mostly be a stand-up battle?

I’m going in with the same game plan I had last time, which is just to fight. I find that if I keep it really simple I don’t forget it.

Where are you training these days?

I have a gym that me and a partner started up and it’s called Next Level MMA. It’s just an incredible place to be. We brought in all the best coaches from around the city. They teach our muay thai, our jiu-jitsu, everything. It’s great for professionals like myself, but it’s really open for everyone, no matter what their goals are, if they just want to wrestle, do jiu-jitsu, whatever.

Your fight against Kalib Starnes, while not a really exciting fight at all, is still something fans remember you for, and obviously it was a turning point in his career, albeit a very negative one. Does it surprise you that that has lived on in MMA lore the way that it has?

It’s funny, I’ve gotten so much positive feedback about that. I call that technique “The Rockhammer.” We’ve actually decided that my next walk-out shirt is actually going to be an artist’s rendition of me doing “The Rockhammer” on the front of the shirt along with my sponsors. Just for kicks I made a few of those shirts a couple years back, just for friends and stuff, and the word got out and everybody wanted one. So we’re actually going to take that logo for the next walk-out shirt and we’re going to have them available for sale on my website pretty soon so everyone can be a part of that ridiculous moment in UFC history.

But about that, in the middle of the fight it’s hard for me to tell how it’s going because I’m so lost in the fight. Eventually though I felt like, man, is anyone else noticing that he’s just running away from me the whole time? That’s when I did my running man impersonation. I’ve always said to myself that I’d rather lose in an interesting fashion than win a boring fight, so at the ten-second mark I started doing the Rockhammer. It was my way of saying, you’ve got ten seconds to do whatever you want to. And he continued to just back away. My goal for that, it wasn’t to make fun of Kalib. It’s really the man in the ring who knows the pressure. It’s easy to sit on the outside and say, ‘Why doesn’t that guy show up to fight?’ When you’re trying to fight someone who’s not letting you get your game plan off at all, which is what I was doing to him, it can be very frustrating.

As far as the fans, I know that when I go to a fight, I go for memories. I want to see something that I can tell people years later, ‘Man, I was there when Randy [Couture] beat Pedro Rizzo for the second time,’ or whatever. People tell me, that fight of yours against Kalib was ridiculous, but what you did at the end was great and it made me a huge fan of yours. To me that’s rewarding to know that fans got their money’s worth for at least ten seconds.

You mention your next walk-out shirt, and it reminds me that you had some trouble with the sponsor who made your last shirt and it turned into a big online feud. Has that been resolved?

No, it hasn’t been resolved. That’s one of the reasons we decided to make our own shirts for this upcoming fight. I don’t want to sound negative, but you get these sponsors who want to make t-shirts and work with fighters and they’re not really established companies. And…well…I’m treading on a minefield here trying not to get in trouble with the UFC, but they only pay a small fee to get to sponsor fighters and really it’s just some guy making t-shirts in his garage with no business sense whatsoever. They tell you they’ll pay you x amount of dollars, then they go out, sell the t-shirts, and don’t pay you what they said.

I’ve had this happen multiple times with various sponsors throughout the years. It happens all the time. They say, ‘Well, we weren’t able to do what we thought we’d do with the sales.’ But you know what? I did what I said I was going to do. I advertised your company. Two million people saw your t-shirt. It’s not my fault you didn’t have your website up, or that you don’t know how to handle shipping, or that you can’t produce and do your job. I did my job and I expect to be paid. It’s like if I show up and clock in and put in my forty hours at a job, I expect to be paid for forty hours. Not twenty hours or thirty hours. If I only showed up for twenty, I wouldn’t demand to be paid for forty. It doesn’t work that way.

What’s really sad is that this sponsor, the shirt was incredible. People loved it. He was bragging to me about how many he’d sold, but then he didn’t pay me my money. And I was being professional about it, telling others to watch out for this company because he didn’t pay me what he said he would. Then he started to berate me online and question my honor. That’s when I just said, you know, hell no. You’re not going to attack my reputation when I’ve got these emails and stuff to corroborate what I’m saying. I don’t even have to present my side of the story. All I have to do is copy and paste. So that’s what I did to make it very clear that this person still owes me money to this day. If I ever do get my money I’ll be just as vocal about that. But I just wanted other fighters and other people to know the facts so they could decide whether they want to work with him.

What do you do in that situation? I imagine it’s not enough money to be worth it for you to take him to court over it.

Legally trying to take him to court and get paid, like I said, if he’s just a guy in his garage making t-shirts, most of these guys don’t really have any money to take. It doesn’t do any good to sue somebody with no money. Being vocal about it is the best you can do. And the UFC in this instance was very loyal to me and once I showed them proof that these promises were made and not kept, and that I had not been paid, they banned this company from the UFC until I get paid. That was a big thing to me that really earned my loyalty. I think the thing is getting the word out to the fans, because they’re the ones who buy the shirts. I’ve had people say to me that they’ll never buy anything from this guy because of what he did. If he’s going to go out there and try to slander the guys who the fans are supporting, then that’s just ridiculous. That’s a horrible business plan right there.

You were on the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” but do you still watch the show and keep up with all the new seasons?

I catch an episode here and there, but not much more than that. I’m actually looking forward to the Chuck and Tito season coming up. I’ve known both those guys for years. Tito actually called me up after my back surgery to ask me some questions and I sent him over to NuVasive and he had the same surgery. And I’ve known Chuck since before “The Ultimate Fighter.” Seeing them on there together I think will be great TV.

Thanks, Nate. Anything else you’d like to add?

I did want to mention the patient advocacy program that NuVasive has started because I think that’s important. It’s called “The Better Way Back” and it’s a patient advocacy group. The biggest thing for me going into my back surgery was the fear, that fear of the unknown. Working with NuVasive, we started The Better Way Back to allow people to get information, speak with other people who have had back surgery and help others to tell them what to expect and what they’ve been through. There are a bunch of different stories, not just like my story, but also a sixty-something year-old woman with scoliosis who had surgery and is now traveling the world. It’s just a bunch of really good information for people who are suffering through this stuff and want answers about what they can do about it.

Great.  Thanks again, Nate.


Cagepotato Comments

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Yeti Stomp- March 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm
Cool guy.
Patrick- March 5, 2010 at 3:23 pm
rickdickulous is a troll. he lives under a bridge and kidnaps little boys. unacceptable!

Nate is A-OK.
sevvi- March 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm
Nice interview. I like Nate, most of the times his fights are exciting and fun to watch.
Rhufio- March 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm
Love Nate Quarry.
LargeMidget- March 5, 2010 at 11:44 am
Classy, articulate interviews are the way into my heart.

rickdickulous- March 5, 2010 at 11:04 am
settle down lady...
kgweightlifter- March 5, 2010 at 10:35 am
@ negative

Your schtick AND your timing need to get better
cecils_pupils- March 5, 2010 at 10:21 am
People who buy a Fight Mafia shirt are fuckin' losers. The guy still goes online and antagonizes Nate over it, too.

So, rickdiculous, you and your homies are gonna buy FM shirts just 'cuz you don't like Nate? That is what douchebags would do...
rickdickulous- March 5, 2010 at 10:11 am
Nate Quarry is such a douche. Nobody cares Nate... NOBODY CARES. I have talked to people who bought a FM shirt just to spite Nate, and not the stupid ugly spine shirt. That was an awful shirt.
Negativecreep0- March 5, 2010 at 10:10 am
and I remember when your father loved you SECOND!
cecils_pupils- March 5, 2010 at 10:10 am
Great interview. Nate has always been one of my favorite fighters. Nice work CP. :)
kgweightlifter- March 5, 2010 at 10:04 am
I still remember when Rich Franklin knocked him the hell out. . . FIRST!