The Next Chapter Could Be Best of Nate Marquardt's Career

Duane FinleyContributor IJanuary 11, 2013

Esther Lin/Forza LLC via Getty Images
Esther Lin/Forza LLC via Getty Images

Few things come easily in the sport of mixed martial arts. In a realm where success is based on a fighter's ability to impose their skill set on the opposition, the process alone is grueling. The cage door closes. The four-ounce leather gloves fly. One fighter celebrates and the other struggles to accept another man was better.

But in some cases, as strange as it may seem, fighting is the easy part.

The majority of fighters' careers are affected by their ability to find victory; but for some, what happens inside the cage is overshadowed by actions taken outside the spotlight. Due to scandal or suspension, they become a lightning rod for the topic at hand.

Where they've spent years perfecting their ability to avoid punishment in order to dish it out, this situation leaves them dazed and against the cage. They realize there is no way to stop what is coming at them, and the only option is to brace themselves, cover up and weather the storm.

It is a process Nate Marquardt knows all too well. That being said, his time of taking shots with his back to the wall have come to an end, and Marquardt is firing back strong.

After his release from the UFC and the 16-month layoff which accompanied it, the 33-year-old returned to action against Tyron Woodley to compete for the Strikeforce welterweight title left vacant when Nick Diaz joined the UFC.

In addition to his return to the cage, it was also his long-awaited debut at 170 pounds. While it was assumed all of the tools which made Marquardt a perennial contender at middleweight would transition with him into the lower weight class, there were no guarantees.

Questions about the layoff and weight cut lingered, but after a slow start in the first round against the former Missouri University wrestling standout, Marquardt provided a definitive answer.

In one of 2012's most brutal knockouts, Marquardt put on a clinic of power, accuracy and video game-esque violence as he left the previously unbeaten Woodley bloody and slumped over on the canvas. It was a moment of redemption for the Colorado resident, but in the same turn, a thunderous statement to the rest of elite welterweights in the world—all who currently fight under the UFC banner.

Before Marquardt can make his return to the Octagon, he still has a solid test standing in his path. This Saturday night, the former Pancrase champion will square off with Tarec Saffiedine in Strikeforce's final event from Oklahoma City. Should Marquardt emerge victorious with another stunning performance, his return to the UFC could very well come with a bypass to the top of the ladder.

A Defining Chapter Remains Unwritten 

During his previous four-year run with the UFC, Marquardt was widely regarded as one of the world's best at 185 pounds. Over this stretch he collected nine wins, and his success provided him the opportunity to compete for the middleweight title against Anderson Silva. By all means, it is a fight I'm sure Marquardt would like to forget, but after suffering a first-round knockout at the hands of "The Spider," he began working his way back to contention.

Marquardt went on to win five of his last seven fights inside the Octagon. But with his two setbacks coming in title-eliminator bouts against Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami, it appeared unlikely he would ever get over the hump at 185 pounds.

He eventually took one final bout at middleweight against Dan Miller, and after defeating the New Jersey native, Marquardt announced he would be dropping into welterweight waters.

The fiasco in Pittsburgh may have delayed Marquardt's first 170-pound showing inside the Octagon, but it is only a matter of time before Nate "The Great" becomes a staple on the welterweight scene in the UFC.

Alongside the lightweight roster, the welterweight division is the organization's deepest and most competitive.

In addition to dominant champion and pound-for-pound great Georges St-Pierre, the division's top 10 is a "Murderers Row" of talent. Marquardt will be entering a dog-eat-dog race to the top with the likes of Johny Hendricks, Nick Diaz, Jake Ellenberger, Jon Fitch and Rory MacDonald, who are more than happy to welcome him to the mix.

The biggest question lingering now will be if Marquardt can make good where he previously failed at middleweight.

On paper you have to put him in the upper tier in the UFC welterweight division, but what will happen when Marquardt finds himself in position to get another crack at UFC gold?

There is no doubt in my mind he is one of the most talented fighters on the planet, but carving his way through the ultra-competitive 170-pound scene is going to be no easy task. If Marquardt has what it takes to reach the top of the heap and battle longtime friend GSP for the title he can write the definitive chapter of his career.

The main reason being: The weight class he rose to the top of previously had nowhere near the depth of the situation he is about to enter.

Should Marquardt face and defeat a collection of world-class talent in the UFC, it will make a lasting impression. Of course it is impossible to tell if future success will overshadow the setbacks of the past, but a successful run in his return to the UFC would undoubtedly bolster his stock in the bigger picture.

Hypothetical scenarios aside, I truly believe Marquardt has all the tools necessary to make his success match his potential. Much like the road which brought him to where he currently stands, the path ahead will come with a tremendous amount of opposition. The biggest difference now is that it only comes down to fighting, and some times, fighting is the easy part.