If Nate Marquardt’s standup has gotten scary in the last few years, it’s not by accident. And sure, having striking gurus Trevor Wittman and Mike Winklejohn in his ear and a world-class team of mixed martial artists around only helps matters.
But the real secret may be that while his peers were consistently sparring with other MMA fighters, Marquardt was slapping on the headgear and the big gloves to go rounds with former world junior middleweight boxing champion Verno Phillips.
That, my friends, is an education you can’t buy.
“For at least two or three years, he was one of my main sparring partners,” said Marquardt, who returns to the Octagon Wednesday night in Austin, Texas to face Rousimar Palhares in the UFC Fight Night main event. “Sparring with a guy like that, I really learned how to box. The level of boxing that guys like that have is just unreal and you have to know how to box to spar with a guy like that.”
It doesn’t come overnight though, and gyms around the world are filled with stories of veteran fighters doling out heaping servings of tough love in the ring. Marquardt’s relationship with Phillips was no different.
“When I first started with him, it was rough,” said Marquardt, a pro mixed martial artist since 1999, a year when Phillips was already over a decade into a boxing career that had seen him already stop Lupe Aquino for the WBO 154-pound title, defeat Santos Cardona and Gianfranco Rosi, and knock out Julian Jackson. “Every sparring session I felt like I was going into a real fight. Every shot I got hit with, I’d feel it and I’d be tense and every time I’m trying to counter I’m trying to hit him hard too just to keep him off me.”
Eventually though, he started to get it.
“After a while, you learn how to move, how to counter, how to react without being tense, and that’s how you learn how to box,” said Marquardt.
And though Marquardt was always proficient enough to hang with anyone on the feet, his standup really began to make an impact – literally – in his 2007 bout with Dean Lister. In that fight, Lister’s game plan was simple: get Marquardt to the mat. Marquardt, though a jiu-jitsu black belt himself, had other ideas, mainly, keep it standing and make Lister pay every time he missed a takedown attempt.
Marquardt won, and he did so by punishing Lister from long range, providing angles that kept the grappling wizard from getting off a solid shot, and by basically making his life miserable for three rounds. Why bring this fight from over three years ago up? Because in Palhares, Marquardt will be facing another jiu-jitsu specialist whose likely goal is to get the fight to the mat, and to only get the fight to the mat. Marquardt agrees with the comparison.
“That is a good fight for me to look at as far as how I executed the game plan,” he said. “Lister was coming in as an Abu Dhabi world champion, a submission grappler, and he’s very well versed at ankle locks as well, so that was one thing I was working on with that fight. He’s also a submission guy. He’s not just going in there to hold a guy down for three rounds; he’s going in to finish him. So once you figure out that they’re not going to be able to take you down or be able to control you the way they need to to set up a submission, it can turn into a bad fight for them.”
Marquardt has every intention of making it a bad fight for Palhares, and it all begins with being on point in the area where every fight begins – on the feet.
“Your gameplan has to start with your standup because that’s where the fight starts,” he said. “You don’t start on the ground, so you have to have a gameplan for standing, and one thing that you can get from boxing is the footwork and that’s one thing that really translates well to mixed martial arts. If you use the right footwork, it makes it very difficult for your opponent to get his hands on you. If you’re more of a stationary, plodding fighter, that’s gonna make it a lot easier for a guy to take you down. If you look at Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran the first time they fought, Sugar Ray Leonard tried to slug with Duran and he played his game. But when he switched it up, fought him from the outside and used his feet and moved around the ring, Duran couldn’t touch him.”
Duran even quit in that 1980 rematch, the infamous “No Mas” bout. And while Palhares is a gritty battler who won’t stop coming forward whether he secures a takedown or not, Marquardt knows that if he is going to get back into the title picture, he needs this win Wednesday night – bad.
It’s not the position he wanted to be in, especially since three straight knockouts of Martin Kampmann, Wilson Gouveia, and Demian Maia put him in line for a championship rematch against the man who beat him in 2007, Anderson Silva, if he only was able to defeat Chael Sonnen at UFC 109 in February. He didn’t win that fight, losing a unanimous decision. And though he delivered plenty of punishment to his foe and almost came close to finishing him off, Marquardt’s focus mainly went to the negatives of the bout, not the positives.
“I look at the positives a little bit as far as what I was able to do in almost finishing him a couple times, and I felt like I had him at the end of the third round,” he said, “but what I really take away from that were the negatives and what I did wrong. I look at those to figure out how to improve and how to become a better fighter, and I really feel that’s what I’ve done. I didn’t follow my gameplan with Chael and that cost me the fight. There were a few technical mistakes as well, but when you don’t follow your gameplan, what’s the point of training for the fight with a gameplan? That’s one thing I’m definitely focused on for this fight – following my gameplan.”
The last time Marquardt lost pre-Sonnen, he dropped a controversial split decision to Thales Leites at UFC 88 in 2008, and vowed to take matters in his own hands from there on out. He lived up to that vow, showing off a sizable mean streak in his trio of knockout wins in late 2008-09. Now that he’s on the comeback trail again, are we to expect a new Nate Marquardt again?
“I’m just gonna be re-focused,” he said. “I definitely still have that mean streak. You even saw it in my last fight – I was trying to finish Chael that whole fight. And this fight’s not gonna be any different as far as me looking for the finish. I’m gonna look to do damage, but I’m gonna be a lot more focused, I’m gonna follow the gameplan, and find the right spot to finish him.”
Marquardt Fired Up and Looking to Finish
"I didn’t follow my gameplan with Chael and that cost me the fight. There were a few technical mistakes as well, but when you don’t follow your gameplan, what’s the point of training for the fight with a gameplan? That’s one thing I’m definitely focused on for this fight – following my gameplan.”