Nate Marquardt prayed for James Te Huna before fighting him at UFC Fight Night 43.
“Please protect this guy so he doesn’t get too hurt,” said Marquardt.
He didn’t believe oddsmakers, who labeled him an 8-5 underdog. Despite losing his last three fights, Marquardt expected to win easily.
His confidence wasn’t rooted in pride. It was rooted in God.
Marquardt is a professing Christian. His faith, and the Christian hip-hop song he used for entrance music, gave him peace against Te Huna. But the last few years, Marquardt failed to prioritize his faith over his career.
Pride did influence that.
“[MMA] is a very tough sport to be a Christian in,” Marquardt told Rapzilla. “People are always giving you praise … Not only praise, just doing interviews with the UFC, if [reporters] ask you before the fight, ‘How are you going to win?’ there’s no humble way to answer that. If you give an answer that they don’t like, they’ll continue to ask the same question over and over until you give something they like for a sound bite.”
Marquardt didn’t blame the UFC for his pride. After all, he took the bait.
“When I was young, I didn’t have the courage to say, ‘I’m not going to say that. That’s prideful.’ Over time, it slowly eroded away my humility and pumped my ego. At first, you’re saying these things that you don’t mean. But pretty soon, you start to mean them.”
From 2007-2010, Marquardt received praise and interviews galore as he knocked on the door of becoming a UFC middleweight champion. However, opponents with size advantages repeatedly denied him.
Marquardt is 6’0”, 185 pounds with a 74” reach. Anderson Silva is 6’2” with a 77.6” reach, and he defeated Marquardt in a middleweight championship. Chael Sonnen drops from 205 pounds to fight middleweight, and he defeated Marquardt in a title eliminator (which earns the winner a championship bid).
When Yushin Okami, who’s 6’2” with a 75” reach, also defeated him in a middleweight title eliminator, Marquardt reassessed his weight class. At middleweight, which ranges from 171-185 pounds, the best fighters were either larger or longer than Marquardt. At welterweight, though, which ranges from 156-170 pounds, Marquardt would be the giant.
A long-time training partner of his is Georges St. Pierre, the undisputed UFC welterweight champ since 2008. And because St. Pierre dominated, Marquardt assumed he’d do the same at 170 pounds.
He dropped from middle to welterweight in 2012. But the change didn’t reap the reward he expected.
Marquardt won his first fight at 170 pounds against Tyron Woodley. His victory temporarily affirmed the change.
“I really feel like it's my time,” he said after the fight. “I'm one of the best in the world. Actually, I feel like I am the best in the world.”
Then in a three-month span, he lost to Tarec Saffiedine and Jake Ellenberger. Marquardt had never lost back-to-back fights. Feeling entitled, he blamed God for the losing streak.
“Why would he allow this?” said Marquardt.
Fighting welterweight proved to be too grueling a task.
A natural middleweight, Marquardt needed a strict diet to drop to 170 pounds by weigh-in the day before a fight. Throughout his three-month training camp, he mapped out the meals necessary to lose the weight. If his meal didn’t fill him after a difficult morning workout, tough luck—he couldn’t eat again until after a second workout.
Marquardt failed to recover by his second workout often, which made it challenging to recover for his morning workout the next day. This routine quickly turned into downward spiral.
“I could tell you that some of my workouts were at 50 percent of what [strength] I should be at,” said Marquardt. “Over three months of training for a fight, if 70 percent of your workouts are only at 80 or 90 percent, you’re going to be at that percent when you fight as well. How you train is how you fight.”
His routine became even more strenuous the week of the fight. He typically weighed 188 pounds entering the final week. With 18 pounds to lose, Marquardt stopped eating carbohydrates and sodium while water loading to flush out additional sodium.
This only lost him about six pounds, though. Twelve pounds to go forced him to spend the night before weigh-ins rotating between the sauna and hot tub. This usually shed eight pounds of water, leaving him about four to lose the morning of weigh-ins.
These habits aren’t UFC endorsed. Doctors told Marquardt not to cut more than two percent of his bodyweight in water for weigh-ins, or he wouldn’t be recovered by the fight. He didn’t listen, using dehydration to cut approximately 6.5 percent of his bodyweight.
Dehydration not only drains strength, it makes fighters more susceptible to concussions and knockouts. Ellenberger knocked out Marquardt just three minutes into Round 1.
Dropping to welterweight hurt more than Marquardt’s career, though. His exhaustion created tension in his marriage and ruined playing with his children. Irritability from malnutrition, an inflated ego and a lifelong temper proved to be an unhelpful combination.
That was the state Marquardt was in when he planned to retire from MMA. Only when the losses, and tens of thousands of dollars in debt, sent him lower than he had ever been in his life did he realize that he needed to reassess his priorities.
“God really showed me where my heart was,” said Marquardt. “I started to idolize my career … And he showed me that he’s been protecting me my whole life, and he’s going to continue to be with me. Once I realized that and how bad the condition of my heart was, I decided to change everything—not just certain parts of my life, but everything.”
Everything included music. Marquardt’s music library housed Eminem, Metallica and Wu-Tang Clan. He often used Rage Against the Machine songs as his UFC entrance music.
Then a friend told him listen to a Christian hip-hop artist named Lecrae. Marquardt’s enjoyment of Lecrae’s music turned to shock when he discovered the rest of the 116 Clique, The Ambassador, Da’ T.R.U.T.H., Flame, Thi’sl, KJ-52, Json, Canon, Kareem Manuel and Viktory. He had no idea so much, let alone any, Christian music existed in the genre he relished, hip hop.
A month after his loss to Ellenberger, Marquardt deleted all of his old music. He already had a temper. The trait was poorly complemented by listening to anger-invoking music—much of which contradicted his faith, no less.
“How was I just listening to this stuff like it was no big deal?” said Marquardt. “It doesn’t even make sense.”
He scratched his retirement plans, and Houston’s Toyota Center aired “Boasting” by Lecrae as Marquardt entered the octagon last October to fight Hector Lombard. Once willing to do anything to gain a UFC championship belt, the following lyrics preluded his comeback.
“If this life has anything to gain at all/I'll count it lost if I can't hear you, feel you, 'cause I need you/Can't walk this earth alone/I recognize I'm not my own, so before I fall/I need to hear you, feel you, as I live to make my boast in you alone.”
Still fighting welterweight, Marquardt got knocked out again. However, with faith first in his life, Marquardt’s instant reaction wasn’t to quit, but to persevere.
“I was able to have a smile on my face the next day, get home and say, ‘I still have my family. I have my wife who supports me, loves me and doesn’t think any less of me because I lost the fight. I still have friends. Praise God,’” said Marquardt. “That’s where God wanted my heart several fights earlier.”
Days after the loss, Marquardt agreed with his coaches to return to middleweight. Marquardt doubts he would’ve agreed had his heart been where it was several fights earlier, fights which still threatened his career. Marquardt repeatedly heard speculation prior to his June 28 bout with Te Huna that the UFC could end their relationship if he loses a fourth straight match.
In response to these concerns, Marquardt chose “Come Alive” by 116 Clique as his walkout song. When throughout Auckland, New Zealand’s Vector Arena sounded the words, “Nothing to lose, I already gave it all away,” they were concerns no longer.
“When I was walking out and I heard that line, it reminded me my career, my whole life is in God’s hands,” said Marquardt. “I’ve given my life to God and I don’t have anything to lose. It allowed me to go out and fight without reservations.”
With a healthy heart and body, Marquardt forced Te Huna to submit with an armbar 4:34 into Round 1. His prayer was answered—Te Huna didn’t get too hurt. And in his post-fight interview, Marquardt boasted in "his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" alone.
David Daniels writes for Rapzilla.com and is also a BleacherReport.com columnist. He graduated from Geneva College and lives in Pittsburgh. Follow David Daniels on Twitter.