Nate “The Great” on the path to—what else?—greatness
Story by Anthony Springer
Photo: Chris Cozzone
Nate “The Great” Marquardt is a nice guy. Really.
In fact, most UFC fighters are generally kind people outside of the ring, but the man fighting out of Colorado gives off a different kind of nice guy vibe.
In a sport where success or failure can live and die by the ability to impose one’s will on a hapless opponent, Nate just doesn’t look like a will imposing person. Sure, he’s 6’0” and muscular, but so are a lot of fighters. The mop full of curly hair and accompanying beard also don’t do much to strike fear into the hearts of his adversaries either.
If the world of ultimate fighting were a comic book, Marquardt would easily be its Clark Kent. Like the legendary DC character Nate leads an average life out of the spotlight, but is all superhero in the Octagon.
The casual MMA fan probably knows next to nothing about Nate “The Great,” yet the lack of recognition doesn’t seem to faze the relatively reserved middleweight. When he steps into the ring this Saturday at UFC 85: Bedlam against Thales Leites (12-1), the married father-of-one will be on a mission to get back to his championship roots.
Allow me to reintroduce myself
With an impressive 29-7-1 record and several championships to a running list of accomplishments, Marquardt easily lives up to his moniker. His tale of fists, feet and submissions began in Colorado. After winning his first three match-ups, he entered 1999’s Bas Rutten Invitational, besting all three of his challengers—via submission—to take home the crown. With a budding fight culture overseas, Marquardt took his show on the road, and found a home fighting in Tokyo, Japan’s Pancrase organization.
“I started fighting in Japan in ‘99 and by the end of 2000 I was the champion,” Marquardt said of his run. “I won an eight man tournament and was crowned the first middleweight champ. I fought over there for six years and that’s where I got a lot of my fight experience against a lot of top level comp. It was a great experience.”
In that six year run, Marquardt developed a love for gold, capturing the King of Pancrase middleweight championship seven times while racking up a record of 20-6-2. Mild mannered Clark Kent became the Man of Steel.
After winning the belt for the seventh time, Marquardt found himself at a career cross road. The year was 2005 and the Ultimate Fighting Championship was picking up steam in the United States. With eyes open to new opportunities and greener pastures, the man who had become a prominent face in the Pancrase middleweight division vacated his title, closed the illustrious chapter in Japan and headed for the Octagon.
“I basically did everything I could do over there,” says Marquardt. “I’d beaten all the top guys that they had and it was time to move on for me. I really appreciate everything they did for me and all the experience I got over there, but UFC’s the top dog [in the U.S.] and that’s where I wanted to fight.”
Back for the first time
Marquardt was Superman in Japan. However, in the States, he was a fresh fish among a sea of fighters swimming upstream for a chance at stardom. Nate quickly showed fans West of his former home why he’s called “The Great,” going on a four fight rampage, defeating Ivan Salaverry, Joe Doersken, Crafton Wallace, and Dean Lister. Like his stint in Japan, Marquardt became Superman again and was poised to strike gold in new territory—all he had to do was defeat Anderson “The Spider” Silva.
The death of Superman
The defending champ also carried an unbeaten UFC record into the fight and became the Doomsday to Marquardt’s Superman. “The Spider” proved much more potent than Kryptonite, defeating Marquardt in convincing fashion via second round TKO at UFC 73.
Looking back on the loss, Marquardt admits that while the defeat dealt a blow to his career, he simultaneously came away with a much needed victory.
“I learned a lot of things,” he says. “The main thing was that I learned stuff about myself. I need to be confident and go in [the Octagon] with that killer instinct that I’ve always had. I kinda lost it a little bit over the last couple years.
“I think I got it back now.”
After years of dominating opponents, Marquardt admits that he grew slightly complacent with each additional notch in the “win” column.
“Honestly, I was doing so well, beating guys through technique and I guess . . . I’m not trying to sound cocky, but I was so much better than some of the guys that I thought I could just pull through with technique. The main thing was not going out with enough killer instinct.
“I got a little too comfortable.”
The return of Superman
Losing to Silva by TKO (the first time Nate ever lost a match due to strikes) reenergized the fallen warrior, allowing him to reclaim the intensity previously lost on the road to MMA supremacy. Marquardt took a seven month hiatus from the Octagon and made his return to action much the same way that he arrived—in spectacular fashion. At UFC 81, mild mannered Marquardt returned to Superman status, defeating Jeremy Horn with a guillotine choke in the second round.
The win helped re-cement Marquardt’s status in the middleweight division and he looks to build on that with a victory over Thales Leites. With a formidable opponent in the immediate future, look for a rejuvenated and refocused Marquardt to fight like a hungry newcomer to the UFC.
“I’m coming out with the killer instinct and every time I hit [Leites], I’m gonna be hitting him with the intention of hurting him or knocking him out,” he says enthusiastically. “He’s a tough guy too, so that’s going to make it an even better fight.”
These days, Marquardt credits his success to a number of factors: his coaches, teaching classes at the High Altitude Martial Arts academy in Aurora, Colorado, and to his very own Lois Lane at home.
“My wife is very supportive. Anytime I go on a trip for training she comes with me. I get to spend a lot of time with my family and I think I’m blessed that way . . . I feel pretty lucky.”
When discussing his legacy in the United States, Nate reverts back to the humble Mr. Kent, briefly letting his guard down to reveal a desire for reverence in and out of the Octagon.
“I want to be remembered as a great fighter inside and outside of the ring. I want to be remembered as a good man that stood by his values . . . to be the champion and be remembered as a great champion”
From the looks of his storied career, “The Great” is well on his way to achieving just that.