The Great Middleweight Showdown
We are in the midst of an era, an era, in the middleweight division, where one man conquers all. Every fighter has the dream to one day be UFC champion, for several fighters they have come within arms reach, only to have to stare across that octagon into the eyes, of the pound for pound best, Anderson Silva.
During his reign of destruction he has completely wiped out the middleweight division, even fighting twenty pounds above his weight class and still dominating. Few men become champions, even fewer leave legacies to be told for decades. Anderson surpassed this goal when he simply embarrassed former champ Forrest Griffin in August.
Imagine starting your fight career in 1999, with one goal in mind winning UFC gold. Imagine you fight thirty five times in that period of time, training eight weeks per fight. That's five and a half years that you wake up at five a.m. and train until eight p.m. everyday. Now you make it to the top, get your claim to fame. You step into that octagon, with one thing on your mind, getting the belt. And you lose. They say having your arm raised is the greatest feeling in the world, and seeing the other persons arm being raised is the worst. How do you respond? Do you take time off and consider if it's even worth trying to get back up there? Or do you immediately get back in the gym, training, going for what you always wanted.
Two middleweights have had this journey, and both are back to the top. Both wanting a rematch with Middleweight sensation, Anderson Silva. But the question remains who wants it more, Nate Marquardt or Dan Henderson?
Marquardt began his career by entering, what seemed to be a quick way to the big show, the Bas Rutten Invitational where the winner was to be offered an Ultimate Fighting Contract. Nate won that tournament however was offered no such contract and instead went to the Japanese based promotion Pancrase. This would be the place Nathan called home for the next five years, where he became the only seven time King of Pancrase.
After accomplishing this feat he was scheduled to take on veteran Ivan Salaverry in the main event of an Ultimate Fight Night. Marquardt went on to take a unanimous decision however Nandrolone was found in his system in a post fight drug test and Nate was suspended for five months.
He would return with two wins over UFC veteran Joe Doerkson and Crafton Wallace. However it wasn't until he scored a decision win over Dean Lister, in which two judges scored the fight 30-25, that Nate got his title shot.
The stage was set and the story was there. UFC 73, it would be Anderson's first defense of the title, and Marquardt's first shot at the belt. It was a back and forth battle, until Silva rocked him with a shot at the end of the first and the fight was stopped. Marquardt was crushed. It took him eight years to get to where he was, and in one second it was all taken away, it meant nothing.
Rewind back to 1998, Henderson began his career in the Brazil Open, a four man tournament in which he won. The UFC took notice and put him in the UFC 17 middleweight tournament. Henderson defeated Allan Goes and Carlos Newton to win this tourney as well. He would go on to win the RINGS king of kings title the following year.
Henderson finally found a home, Pride Fighting Championships, facing everyone from Wanderlei Silva to Nogueira to Murilo Bustamante. And when the Bushido series decided to hold a tournament for the 183 pound belt, Henderson jumped at the opportunity, defeating Akihiro Gono and Ryo Chonan by knockout to move on to the finals. He outpointed Murilo Bustamante to become the first ever Pride welterweight title.
Pride 33, the return to the States, Wanderlei Silva was to defend his belt, but needed an American opponent to sell seats. Who better than Dan Henderson. The hype built itself, Welterweight champ Dan Henderson moving up in weight to avenge a loss to Silva. And that's exactly what he did when he knocked out Wanderlei with a looping left in the second.
With the UFC buying Pride and Henderson holding two belts he was set to unify them. He lost to Quinton via decision and it was time to take on Anderson. Champ versus Champ. Pride versus UFC. Who would reign supreme. It turned out that Henderson would be the only man to win a round against Anderson in the UFC, however he fell victim to a choke at the end of the second round. He made it to the top and then won a belt again, then lost one, then lost the other. He fell hard...
Two fighters, both started in Japan, both champions in their respective organizations, a common goal, that neither accomplished, yet they both fought on.
Here we are, 2009, Anderson has no one left to face that he hasn't already. Henderson was promised a shot after viciously knocking out Michael Bisping, however Marquardt reciprocated with a swift knockout of undefeated Demian Maia. The question is who gets the first shot.
There is only one answer, and it leads us to two of the greatest fights in MMA history. The first is clearly Marquardt versus Henderson. They have the same story, both well rounded, both have the drive and the desire it takes to be champ. The second pits Anderson against the winner. It wouldn't matter who it is, they would have deserved it. The storybook has been written and the untold chapters are about to unfold. Will Dana keep his word to Dan? Will Marquardt's speedy win over Maia make him the top contender? Does Silva still have the drive? And more importantly will anyone ever beat Anderson at 185 pounds?
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