It was inevitable that Nate Marquardt would return to a Zuffa property. Lifelong bans in the UFC usually aren’t that exactly, and Marquardt is too skilled to remain on the fringes for too long. Especially in light of the “Nick Diaz experience” UFC president Dana White and company have gone through in the past year, perhaps a change of heart has slowly occurred for White toward a fighter nearly universally liked by his fellow employees.
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Marquardt was also too strong a talent to not have under the UFC/Strikeforce umbrella; if the Zuffa companies were to be the proving ground for the best fighters in the world, then Nate “The Great” needed to be somewhere in that arrangement.
Thus his signing to Strikeforce is really a way in, to prove that he can adhere to athletic commission requirements in regard to his testosterone replacement therapy without costing Zuffa significant sums of cash. That makes sense. Marquardt was the premier fighter in the world regardless of weight class not under the Zuffa or Bellator banners. If he can be a good citizen and “play the game,” as White would say, a proper UFC return is certainly in the cards. He’s too good not to be in MMA’s top promotion.
But Strikeforce is making a huge mistake by having Marquardt fight at welterweight.
Formerly a top-five middleweight, Marquardt’s welterweight debut forced a wild 48 hours in which he was taken out of a UFC on Versus main event and fired from the organization. Marquardt is set to make his debut at that weight class against Strikeforce stalwart Tyron Woodley. And while that fight could potentially be a title eliminator — or even a title fight proper to crown a new king of the division after Diaz vacated the title — Strikeforce is doing Marquardt a huge disservice by having him debut in a new weight class against a tough opponent. Marquardt ought to be fighting in the middleweight division, if only because that division needs someone like him in it.
The one notable reason that it could be good to have the former middleweight title contender fight as a welterweight is that it immediately gives the division that much more credibility. Marquardt’s credentials are top-notch and bring a level of talent to a division that’s easily seen as second-rate to the nest of big-time fighters in the UFC’s employ. Three of his past four losses have been to Chael Sonnen, Yushin Okami and Anderson Silva, however, and as a middleweight he’s still considered among the top 10 in that division by many, in spite of his inactivity over the past year.
If anything, he’s shown that he’s an elite-level gatekeeper at worst in the division; if you can beat Marquardt, you deserve to fight Silva. He’s always on that cusp of a title shot but has lost twice (Sonnen, Okami) in situations in which he was potentially one win away from another crack at Silva. As a middleweight he has a great record, and anyone who fancies himself a contender in the division ought to face him to see whether that fighter has what it takes to be at the top of the division.
In the worst-case scenario, Marquardt stepping in on short notice to face Silva again wouldn’t have been all that inconceivable a year ago. He’s still a potential contender with a win or two in the division, and in the UFC fights against someone like Michael Bisping or Chris Weidman still make sense. As a middleweight he’s an intriguing matchup.
This is exactly what Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold needs right now.
Rockhold is a bit of an enigma in the division, in that he’s shown he can beat the best Strikeforce has but needs a true challenge. If Rockhold is a top-five or top-10 middleweight, as many people argue, then Marquardt is the absolute perfect fight for him. It’s a fight with much more significance than one between Marquardt and Woodley. Marquardt as a welterweight helps to boost the fortunes of an ailing division, nothing more. It comes down to what he’d be in either division.
Marquardt as a middleweight would give the division an entirely new foil and measuring stick.
Marquardt as a welterweight is still an unproven commodity wading into a division that doesn’t stack up to the UFC.
In either division he’s going to be among the best, if only by default, based on what he’s accomplished. Marquardt has been in the cage with Silva and the best the middleweight division has to offer and is still in his prime as a fighter. As a middleweight, though, we’d find out more about Strikeforce’s talent level than he could ever prove as a welterweight.