Nate Marquardt tried and failed on July 7, 2007.
It was a late summer evening in Sacramento, California where he challenged for the UFC middleweight crown his first and only time against the resident divisional buzzsaw Anderson Silva.
Success came early as Marquardt was able to grab a single leg takedown and put the champion on his back. He then landed some effective ground and pound but was unable to inflict any significant damage.
A questionable standup by referee John McCarthy due to “inactivity” led to the final sequence, where he was stunned by a straight left from Silva and promptly pounded out.
It lasted a mere four minutes and 50 seconds.
It was a traumatic chain of circumstances that transcribed on a night he will not soon forget.
“I can replay it (the fight) in my head. I can recall it like it was yesterday, but at the same time, it feels like a long time ago. I have had a lot of fights since then. I have become so much better of a fighter,” said Marquardt.
The loss forced him back to the drawing board and towards an inward reevaluation.
“Before I fought Silva I started to become more conservative of a fighter. I started fighting to not lose. All the sudden I was scared of losing. When you fight that way you tend to hold back. You don’t want to overextend. You don’t want to make a mistake. Since I fought him you can see the difference. I have finished a lot of my opponents. I have gotten a lot of knockouts. I go for the finish. When I see an opening, I attack 100 percent.”
For those scoring at home, he has recorded five stoppages in his five victories since the Silva blemish.
He has also sat back and watched as a host of contemporaries shared a common fate. Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Demian Maia and Chael Sonnen all squandered their opportunities against Silva too.
Three years waiting for a “do over” is also three years of evolution as a mixed martial artist.
According to Marquardt, “Technically I am a ton better in all areas. My striking has improved a bunch. My wrestling has improved. I am faster. I am stronger. I am a little bit bigger. And the main thing is my mentality going into a fight.”
Now the time has finally come.
Operation: Title Shot Part Zwei (“two” in German) will commence at the Konig Pilsener Arena in Oberhausen, Germany as the UFC makes its return trip to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Western Deutschland.
Marquardt, coincidentally a surname with German origins, will square off in the main event against Yushin Okami with No. 1 contendership on the line.
The winner will earn the right to fight for the 185-pound belt against the Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort victor, which is a matchup scheduled to take place at the UFC 126 event during Super Bowl Weekend.
On paper, Okami is a bit of an enigma.
He is a veteran, well-rounded southpaw still largely underrated by mainstream MMA fans due to his less-than-flashy demeanor.
Patience and avoiding damage are two of the virtues he has bestowed upon us in his UFC tenure, albeit at times to his own detriment.
Like Marquardt, he appears to make tangible improvements on a fight-by-fight basis.
In his recent bouts with Lucio Linhares and Mark Munoz, he showed major improvements in the striking department. He was much more fluid, technical and put combinations together better. He also has gone out of his way, in the form of a stateside trip to Team Quest, to improve both his offensive and defensive wrestling.
This fight could very well be a war of attrition; a back-and-forth, split decision-type of affair.
Conversely, to prime for Okami, Marquardt did something he has never done before in his preparations for a fight—he remained stationary in the Denver, Colorado area for his entire training camp.
“The reason is because I had seven weeks to train and I had to set up all my sparring and everything. I think if one of the gyms in New Mexico (Greg Jackson’s) or Montreal (Tristar Gym) had the exact style of fighter that I needed to spar with to get ready for Okami then it would have been a different story. I was able to bring in some boxers to train with as well as the guys that are already here to mimic parts of Okami’s style,” said Marquardt.
Is there any aspect of MMA he feels Okami is superior to him in?
“I really don’t. He is a very dangerous fighter, but he is not dangerous in the respect that he does not finish a lot of his fights. He does not go for the finish 100 percent. That is one of the things I have an advantage over him. I will be looking to do damage. I feel my striking is better than his. Probably his best thing is avoiding damage and being patient. And I avoid damage very well and I am patient.”
Even in spoken form it has begun to sound like gridlock.
Nevertheless, the goal is simple—win by any means necessary and secure a long awaited second peek at the Holy Grail.
Hollywood is waiting to greenlight the sequel.
Casting for the role of “challenger” in a 2011 middleweight title fight begins on Saturday.
Derek Bolender is a freelance MMA writer who has contributed to CBSSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, and MMAmania.com (in addition to BleacherReport.com).
Follow him on Twitter at @DerekBolender.
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