Veteran middleweight contender says move to welterweight a better fit
If fighting in the UFC was like Twitter, changing weight classes would be trending worldwide.
Over the last several months, established stars in various divisions have made the decision to change addresses. Kenny Florian successfully made the move to featherweight earlier this month at UFC 131, and Sunday’s fourth event on Versus features a number of fighters debuting in new divisions. The most prominent of those is headliner Nate Marquardt.
After more than five years competing in the UFC’s middleweight ranks, the perennial contender will step into the cage as a welterweight for the first time this weekend. Originally scheduled to face Anthony Johnson, Marquardt will instead face surging Rick Story less than a month removed from defeating Thiago Alves at UFC 130.
Some people will look at Marquardt’s decision to drop down in weight and draw comparisons to Florian. Like the former lightweight contender, Marquardt was unsuccessful in his first attempt to capture the 185-pound title from Anderson Silva back in 2007, and fell short in two attempts to get himself into the cage with Silva for a second time. Unlike Florian, however, Marquardt is changing divisions after a win, something he says points to the true reason for his switch.
“For my last fight (at UFC 128 against Dan Miller), I was very light and I felt the best I’d felt in years, probably since before I was fighting in the UFC,” offered Marquardt during last week’s media conference call. “I think it’s just more of a natural weight for me, and my body operates better with less weight on it, so for me it’s just about performance. I feel I’m going to perform better at a lighter weight, regardless of if I’m fighting at 185 or 170.”
Later in the week, he expanded on those thoughts exclusively with HeavyMMA and admitted the idea of changing divisions had been bumping around in his head for quite some time when another talented welterweight suggested he might benefit from a change in scenery.
“I believe I could get the title at ’85 and or 170. The main thing for me is that I want to perform at my best, and I feel way better being lighter. I feel faster, my cardio is definitely way better, and I haven’t lost any strength or explosive power. For me, even if I was to fight at 185, I would stay at this lighter weight.
“[I’ve been thinking about changing divisions] since Georges (St.Pierre) fought Koscheck in December. I was [at Tristar in Montreal] and he kind of recommended it. He asked me how much I was weighing and I told him. He said, `You should really consider moving down to 170. That might be a better fit for you.’ I felt a lot better kind of walking around lighter. And then for my whole camp for Miller, I was lighter and I just felt great.”
Shedding some mass prior to the Miller fight will certainly help Marquardt as he prepares to make his first cut to 170 pounds in quite some time. To further aid in the process, the former middleweight contender has enlisted the help of a dietitian who has helped clean up his diet and position him for an easier cut heading into Fight Week.
“I’m working with P.R. Cole; she’s a dietitian and very knowledgeable. She’s got a bunch of great recipes. Before this, I always ate very healthily, but one of the great things that she’s been able to help me with is portion control and calorie counting; keeping my calories down, but still eating enough to be energized for my workouts and recovery.
“Being a week out from the fight, I’ll have about 16 pounds to cut. I know I’ll be able to do it; not easily, but it’s not going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, that’s for sure. As far as comparing it to what I cut in the past, I would generally only have to cut ten pounds, seven on the day of, but I wasn’t really doing it the right way. I think if I was a little more strict on my diet, I would have had an easier time doing it and I would have felt better.”
Those concerns are not an issue this time around, and neither is the added pressure of making a splash in his welterweight debut.
Critics see Marquardt’s decision to drop to welterweight as admitting defeat in the middleweight title chase, and believe an impressive showing in his welterweight opener becomes even more important. There is merit to those views, as a loss for the incoming established star would drop him into the welterweight abyss with countless other talented contenders, but Marquardt isn’t focused on any of that.
“If you focus on something like that, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. I don’t put any extra pressure on myself in my fights; the fight in itself is enough pressure, and that’s what I should be concentrating on. I don’t need to be focused on outside things from the fight; I just need to focus on my opponent, what I need to do, and going out and having a good performance. That’s what I’m focused on. I don’t even care about winning or losing; I’m just going to go out and do my best.”
During the earlier conference call, Marquardt admitted that his game plan for Johnson was very basic, and that the shift to Story didn’t necessitate a change in strategy, despite the obvious differences between the two opponents. Instead of getting bogged down in strategy and thinking out every possible scenario he might encounter in the cage, the 32-year-old is keeping things simple and relying on his experience to help him earn a victory.
“I know what to do in pretty much every situation; I just need to make sure my basics are sharp. I just need to go in with a simple game plan, and anything that comes out of that, I know how to deal with it. I’ve been training for 12 years now, so there’s going to be no surprises. My basics are sharp, I feel great, and I expect a great performance.”
Story is coming into this fight on a high, having scored the biggest win of his career just a month earlier. Beating Alves put the Brave Legion fighter on the radar and into contention, pushing his winning streak to six in the process.
There is an opening at the top of the welterweight division; injuries to Jon Fitch and B.J. Penn, and the emergence of Story have changed the look of the list of contenders. Though this is just his first fight in the 170 pound ranks, Marquardt believes a victory over Story on Sunday night would move him to the front of that list, setting up a potentially interesting scenario.
Standing at the top of the division, of course, is Marquardt’s long-time friend and training partner St. Pierre. The issue of teammates facing each other has been a hot button issue in the sport for some time, and lead to Rashad Evans departing from the team at Greg Jackson’s where both Marquardt and St. Pierre train as well.
The question of whether he’ll fight his teammate from Tristar and Team Jackson is one Marquardt has been asked time and again heading into this fight. For now, he says he and St. Pierre are taking a “wait and see” approach.
“We’ve discussed it, and basically, we’ve decided we’re going to talk about that situation when it comes. Right now, we both have opponents in front of us, and it’s not something on our radar. We’re not going to talk about “ifs,” we’re going to talk about what’s in front of us now, so it’s basically something we’re not going to talk about.”
For now, the focus remains on Story and getting a win in his welterweight debut. But if he comes away from Sunday night with a victory in hand, Marquardt better expect the questions about facing St. Pierre to come flooding in.
He’s essentially said they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it. A win on Sunday puts him at the start of that bridge, with everyone anxiously waiting to see if Marquardt would be willing to take the next step.