Nate Marquardt might not be a title contender again, but you know what? A win has to feel good for him after two years of futility. More importantly, at least for now, his job is safe.
After a 1-3 run at 170 pounds, Marquardt beat James Te-Huna in his return to middleweight on Saturday at UFC Fight Night 43. It was a surprisingly lopsided win for the former King of Pancrase (oh, and Strikeforce welterweight champ, I suppose), where he showcased the explosive grappling and solid striking that once made him a top-10 middleweight.
The question, of course, turns to what's next for Marquardt. In the talent-rich middleweight division, he has a fair number of options.
CB Dollaway is looking to be the new Matt Brown. After four years of being the most mediocre fighter on the UFC's 185-pound payroll, Dollaway has put together a strong five-fight stretch, going 4-1 with the only loss coming via a questionable split decision against Tim Boetsch. Dollaway most certainly wants to begin facing elite-level middleweights, but, unfortunately for him, those calls are premature.
For all his time in the UFC, he has yet to face a true dual threat. He has defeated solid strikers in the past and faced solid grapplers, but he hasn't fought anyone who owns both solid grappling and striking. Enter Marquardt.
As mentioned earlier, Marquardt is an explosive grappler and solid striker. For Dollaway, a win over Marquardt would hold some meaning. Meanwhile, Marquardt would jump at the chance to face a ranked fighter (Dollaway is No. 9 on UFC.com) after such an ugly skid.
It's easy to love the former Green Beret. He has all the personality and skills to stay a fixture in the middleweight division for years to come. Unfortunately, while a win over Michael Bisping usually serves as a trampoline into middleweight contendership, he finds himself the odd man out in a crowded title picture.
Obviously, Lyoto Machida gets first crack at Chris Weidman next week. After that, Vitor Belfort still has the resume for a shot and remains one of the most "ka-ching" fighters for the UFC. Then, to top it all off, Luke Rockhold and Ronaldo Souza (who both beat Kennedy in Strikeforce) sit ahead of him in the rankings.
All that is to say that Kennedy has a lot of time before he could hypothetically gain a title shot. He'll need to fight somebody, so why not Marquardt?
Marquardt is a veteran with some name value and a very good stylistic matchup for Kennedy. As with Dollaway, Marquardt probably wouldn't turn down a chance, no matter how slim, to legitimately vault back into the Top 10.
The only thing possibly standing in the way of this would be their history in the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp.
Winner of Uriah Hall vs. Thiago Santos
While Marquardt was really good at one point and still has a history of solid fighting (if you look past the steroids, TRT and dirtiness in the cage, at least), let's be honest: A win over a near-death James Te-Huna doesn't quite make you a title contender.
It's possible the UFC will treat him like any other guy who shows up and beats a middle-tier opponent in his debut and tell him to do it again...and again...and again. There are plenty of solid potential challenges for Marquardt in that top-20-to-30 range, but the one that makes the most sense schedule-wise is whoever wins the UFC 175 matchup between Uriah Hall and Thiago Santos.
Hall hasn't made good on his uber-prospect labeling but remains a midcard staple with serious upside. While Santos isn't as well-known, a win over Hall would definitely do something for his popularity.
A fight with Marquardt would be a big opportunity for either one of them, and Marquardt could use another win or two to cement his place in the division.