Former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nate Marquardt made his return to the Octagon at UFC 158 after nearly two years, battling Jake Ellenberger in a fight of hard-hitting, high-level 170-pounders.
The fight started off slow, but Marquardt eventually fell short in his quest to get back in the win column in the UFC, as he was knocked out midway through Round 2. He attempted to dispute the decision to stop the fight, but the replay showed that he was very clearly out and the right decision was made to stop the contest.
With losses in each of his past two bouts, Marquardt is now in a very tough situation.
As the divisions continue to grow within the UFC, spots on the roster within those divisions are becoming much more difficult to come by. For a fighter like Marquardt who has had his troubles with the UFC front office in the past, three straight losses could potentially be a death sentence for his spot on the roster.
Marquardt will need to get back in the win column, so playing things safe against a lower-level opponent could be an option. Then again, at 33 years old, it's not as if he has all the time in the world to slowly climb his way back up the ranks. He may, then, consider taking a higher-profile fight against a tougher opponent, but one who would move him back up the ladder more quickly.
Here are five options for Nate Marquardt's next fight.
One opponent that would likely make for a good fight for Nate Marquardt is South Korean fighter Dong Hyun Kim.
Kim, a former borderline top-10 fighter in his own right, was on pace for a title fight in 2011 before a crushing knockout loss to Carlos Condit derailed him. He did get back on the board with a win over Sean Pierson in his next fight, but then he was injured in a fight against Demian Maia.
Kim is on a two-fight winning streak but needs a win over a "named" fighter like Marquardt to really assert himself back into top-10 discussions.
After destroying a somewhat similar fighter in Tyron Woodley, Marquardt would likely be the favorite against Kim.
If Nate Marquardt wants to right his career quickly, perhaps the best possible opponent for him would me Mike Pierce.
Pierce is currently on a three-fight winning streak, though many believe it should be a four-fight winning streak given the way he performed in a loss against Josh Koscheck at UFC 143.
As a near-top-10 fighter, Pierce has been known to hold down even some of the best wrestlers in the division. Anyone who beats Pierce, at this point, is going to be in serious conversation as a top-10 fighter himself.
Given the skills that Pierce possesses, this is a very risky opponent who could put Marquardt in the unemployment line, but the risk/reward just might be worth it.
Rick Story was one of the hottest fighters in the sport in 2010 and early 2011. But then he fell to Charlie Brenneman and has simply struggled to get any consistency going ever since.
He did, however, earn a victory in his most recent bout Saturday night, knocking out Quinn Mulhern at UFC 158.
Given the three losses he has in his past five fights, Story is simply trying to work his way back into main card consideration. A fight against Marquardt would almost certainly put him back on the main card, which is at least a big step closer to where he was at his high point.
This would be a very winnable fight for Marquardt given Story's relatively weak stand-up game, but he would have to be careful not to turn it into a wrestling match.
Say what you want against BJ Penn, but he is still a huge name in this sport and one that would guarantee Marquardt at least one more appearance on the main card.
One big advantage of fighting Penn is that Marquardt could voluntarily go through VADA testing, proving his TRT usage is not out of control and thus getting back in the good graces of the UFC.
Penn should probably retire, but if he doesn't, a bout against Marquardt would be very interesting.
Call me crazy, but Nate Marquardt just doesn't look like the same fighter at 170 pounds that he did at 185.
While most fighters who move down in weight classes see a noticeable improvement in their overall size in comparison to their opponents, Nate Marquardt has somehow gone from being a very big middleweight to just an above-average-sized welterweight. This doesn't bode well for his style at all, and he has struggled, going just 1-2 in his three fights.
A move back to 185, if he can put muscle mass back on, could revive Marquardt's MMA career.