“I’m definitely looking to either submit him or knock him out. I’m going to be patient and look for my opening, and when I force the opening I’m going to take it."
Since 1999, Nate “The Great” Marquardt (33-9-2) has had one constant in his corner, his wife Tessa.
But when he faces Yushin Okami (26-5) in the main event at UFC 122 in Oberhausen, Germany on Saturday, he’ll be riding solo for the first time in his professional mixed martial arts career.
“With the baby being born, this is the first time she won’t be in the arena with me,” says Marquardt, whose daughter Macaiah was born in May. Nate has a second daughter, Emmalie, from a previous relationship. “Tessa’s been to all my fights. She’s traveled to Japan with me and all over the world, so it will be weird not having her there, but I know she’ll be with me in my mind and in my heart. She’s always with me,” he says.
The Wyoming native, who fights out of Aurora, Colorado, where he owns High Altitude Martial Arts, will be corned by his usual team of striking coach Trevor Wittman, wrestling coach Leister Bowling and master strategist Greg Jackson.
“I’ll have my team with me and I’m calm and confident in my skills and in what I have to do to win,” says Nate “The Great,” whose fight with “Thunder” will be a title eliminator.
The winner will face either Anderson Silva or Vitor Belfort after those two face off for the belt in early 2011. For Marquardt, it would be his second attempt at the belt. His first title shot ended quickly when he succumbed to a barrage of devastating strikes from the champion Silva at UFC 73 more than three years ago.
“Knowing that the winner gets a title shot is a little added pressure, but fighting Okami, there’s pressure there anyway,” he said. “Yushin does a very good job in avoiding damage, so I will have to pick my shots carefully and not get too carried away one way or the other,” says Marquardt.
Both fighters have won four of their last five bouts, and share a loss to former number one contender Chael Sonnen. Marquardt is coming off a dominant performance against Brazilian Jiu Jitsu specialist Rousimar Palhares, winning on strikes in the first round of their bout at UFC Fight Night 22.
Marquardt showed experience in that bout, after Palhares froze and motioned to ref Herb Dean that he thought Marquardt’s legs were greased after he easily slipped out of a heel hook attempt. Marquardt pounced on his distracted opponent, forcing a first round stoppage.
Palhares later apologized for the accusation.
Meanwhile Okami barely squeaked by wrestler Mark Munoz in a split decision victory at UFC on Versus, exposing once again his weakness against strong wrestlers (the first being the loss to Sonnen), which could play into the strength of Marquardt, a former ADCC champion and seven time King of Pancrase whose majority of victories have come via submission on the ground. That said, he’s not overlooking the Japanese ground and pound specialist, who is looking to become only the fifth Japanese fighter to fight for a UFC title.
"Okami is a very strong opponent,” says Marquardt. “He’s physically strong and has a very good judo base. I’ve brought in long, tall guys who are southpaws so that I get used to his style. Yushin is extremely well rounded in every area. I will be looking to take him out of his comfort zone and taking the fight where I want it to go," he says.
Marquardt lost his second opportunity at a title shot when he was bested by Sonnen at UFC 109 last February, and he’s determined not to let that happen again.
“Okami is the next step and then I’m one step away from the belt. I’m not going to let him stop me. I’m going to do everything that I can in my power to beat Okami,” he said.
Marquardt’s Muay Thai coach Phil Nurse said Nate has a lot of advantages over Okami, but stopped short of saying exactly what they are. “Not before the fight,” says Nurse, careful not to give anything away that Okami could use to his advantage.
“There isn’t one way to fight Okami. He’s got good standup, he’s a good wrestler with good takedown defense. It’s a good test for Nate but I don’t think Yushin has the tools he needs to be beat our guy,” he said.
Nate has had his taste of highlight reel moments. At UFC 88 he knocked out Martin Kampmann in just 82 seconds with a head kick, and at UFC 102 he knocked out Demian Maia with a counter right just 21 seconds into the first round. It was the exclamation point the Team Jackson fighter needed to announce his return to contender status in the middleweight ranks.
“I’m definitely looking to either submit him or knock him out. I’m going to be patient and look for my opening, and when I force the opening I’m going to take it,” says Marquardt, who understands that while this is a sport, entertaining the fans is a big part of his job.
“I’ll put on a show, for sure,” he said. “But I need to win this fight, so I’m focused on winning.”