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Nate Marquardt Talks UFC 102, Demian Maia and Chasing a UFC Title

Nate MarquardtIt is fitting given his soft-spoken demeanor that Nate Marquardt has very quietly been among the top-rated middleweights in the world for years. The 30-year-old Coloradan is 9-2 over his last 11 fights, with his only losses coming to awe-inspiring champion Anderson Silva and the former No. 1 contender Thales Leites, a fight in which Marquardt had two points deducted for fouls and still only narrowly lost by split-decision.

At UFC 102, Marquardt (28-8-2) will square off with unbeaten Brazilian ground wizard Demian Maia. The winner is not likely to receive a title shot, as UFC President Dana White has indicated Dan Henderson is the likely next foe for "the Spider," but a win will certainly move Marquardt right on Henderson's tail.

The contender recently took a few minutes from his training to talk to FanHouse about his recent improvement, the risk of going to the ground with Maia, and chasing the title.

Mike Chiappetta: In your last couple of fights, you've looked really sharp especially standup wise with back-to-back TKO stoppages. Is there something that clicked in your training or do you just think you've hit your prime?

Nate Marquardt: Well I think I've worked very hard on improving my skills in every area, but I think part of it is my mental attitude going into the fight to look for the finish and to knock the other guy out or submit him.

Do you feel like your standup has been the biggest improvement in your game?
Yeah, I would say that's probably improved the most. I've been improving a lot since I've had Trevor Wittman as my boxing coach, and I now I also get to workout with K-1 fighters, and that's definitely one of my biggest areas of improvement.

By the time you get in the cage you'll have had about seven months between fights, which is longer than usual for you. Was there a specific reason why you went that long between fights?
I didn't take any time off from training. I've been training since my last fight. I think it was just the timing of the UFC, and their scheduling. But I've been training since my last fight.

Are you OK with that layoff?
It doesn't really matter to me. Obviously I don't want to go too long between fights, but I don't think seven months is too long, especially for a big fight like this. I have a lot of time to train, to game plan and to improve areas I want to improve rather than just straight up gearing up to fight, and focusing strictly on what I'm going to do with my opponent. I still have time to improve myself in general, so say if my takedowns need help or whatever, I could work on that. But as the fight gets closer, I can work on game-plan specific things.

Are there any specific things you worked on for this camp?
There are things I do with every fight, but at the same time, I believe I'm a better fighter and it's going to come down to who fights the best that night. I don't feel like I'm restricted to just my game plan. I have a game plan, but if I feel I can attack him a certain way that's outside of it, I'm not going to hold back.

Recently, Dana White said that Dan Henderson is likely to get the next crack at Silva. Are you upset or surprised at the fact there's no title shot at stake in this match?
No, and to be honest, I'm not even sure that's true. Dan getting a shot doesn't exclude the winner of this fight getting a shot. Anything can happen in this sport. I don't know if that fight's official yet, but even if it is, something could happen to Dan, and I could be the next one to get a shot. Right now, I'm just focused on my fight. I hope I get a title shot from this fight, but if not, I think it's in God's hands, and I'm not going to stress about it.

How important of a goal is it for you to be the UFC champion?
It's pretty huge to me. It's what I always dreamt of. It's pretty much why I started training in MMA, this is what I wanted to do. But at same time, I'm not obsessed with it or anything. I take each fight as it is, and a fight is just a fight. Whether it's for a belt or not, it's still important. I'm not going to make anything too important by saying it's for title shot or because it's for the belt. I just view it as a fight.

You fought Thales Leites just about a year ago. Is this fight similar in preparation to the Leites fight?
Somewhat. They're both jiu-jitsu guys and they're both world class jiu-jitsu guys, but I'd say it kind of stops there. Leites is built completely different. He's a lot taller, he does different stuff on the ground. He tries different takedowns. Maia's standup is completely different than Leites'. So is it similar? It is but it isn't. When it comes down to specifics, it's not the same fight at all.

Did you bring in any specific jiu-jitsu specialists to prepare for this bout?
I pretty much stick with the guys I have. I feel I have the best team in the world, guys who are excellent on the ground. I have black belts that I train with; really good, world-class fighters. I'm sure I can't replicate Demian because he's got his own tricks, but I have great training partners on the ground, and I'll feel comfortable there with him.

Obviously you have your fair share of submission wins, but is it even worth the risk for you to go to the ground with him?
That's something I can't answer until I get in the fight, to be honest, because if the opportunity presents itself with him and we land there, and I feel comfortable and do some damage, I'm experienced enough that I'm not going to make some silly mistake and get caught in a triangle or something like that. The triangle that I have to worry about is the one he sets up. If I feel like he's setting stuff up, I'm going to try to get back to my feet, but if I'm doing damage, I'm going to keep doing damage.

Are there certain things he tends to repeat in his submission setups?
Oh yeah, everyone has their setups, whether you're standing, or with takedowns, or on the ground. That's the difference between an amateur or a pro, or a great fighter. They don't just try to hit you; they try to trick you to move a certain way so they can hit you harder. And it's the same thing with submissions. If he wants to push you, he's going to pull you first so you react. That's how great fighters are. They set things up to try to trick you into moving the way they want you to. And he's very good at that.

All of Maia's UFC wins are by submission. Do you view him as being one-dimensional?
I'd say somewhat. He has a couple good takedowns that he does, and I'm sure he's improving everything that he can. His standup, even though he's fairly new at it and is not as experienced as I am, he throws everything with power behind it. So I have to respect all parts of his game. I have to be ready for all areas.

He's been training with Wanderlei Silva. His fights have been short, but do you see any progression in his standup?
It's hard to say. I see that when he's on his feet, he swings really hard, which is something Wanderlei's known for. As far as improving, it's hard to say. He basically does the same thing every time he fights when it comes to his standup game.

I know you probably don't want to look too far ahead, but if you beat Maia -- who is unbeaten -- what else do you think you'd have to do to get a title shot? Who should you face?
It's a good question. I thought it could be Anderson SIlva, it could be Dan Henderson. Rich Franklin beat Wanderlei, so it won't be Wanderlei and it won't be Henderson if he's fighting Anderson. So I don't know. I still hope to get a title shot. But it's something I can't worry about it. It's just wasted time for me to think about. All I've got to do is fight my best this next fight.

How much are you driven by a potential rematch with Anderson?
It's very important to me. It's something I really want and desire is to get a rematch with him and fight my best. I didn't fight my best against him, but I'm a completely different fighter now. That's important to me, but at same time, the most important thing is the guy in front of me, so I have to be 100 percent into this fight.

You talk about being a different fighter. Are you also bigger than you were then?
I've put on maybe 3-4 pounds, but it's not the weight that would make a difference, it's more how I'm training. After I fought Anderson, another thing I changed was working with George St. Pierre's strength coach, Jonathan Chaimberg. He's excellent. I think he's the best in the game. He's made it so I can be an explosive fighter, but at the same time, I could go all three or five rounds. Right up to end of fight, I've got that knockout power, and I think that's important. Before, I wouldn't say I didn't have it, but he definitely made it a lot better. I'm a lot more explosive and better at keeping it throughout the fight at the same pace.

Anderson's been going back and forth between 185 and 205. From your point of view as someone in contention, do you prefer he make a decision and stay at one weight class so as not to put the belt on hold?
I don't really care. Honestly, it's something I can't control. He's actually been fighting quite a bit. Most champs only fight two times a year, every six months. I think he's been doing that in the middleweight division. He's defended it twice a year, which is average. It doesn't bother me.

How would you attack Anderson if you got a second shot? Would you even attempt to strike with him or employ a different attack?
I've worked hard to improve myself and I'm a completely different fighter. Technically I'm much better and physically a lot stronger and faster, with better endurance. Mentally, one of the biggest things, is I'm a lot stronger and more dangerous mentally. Game plan wise, it might be a bit different or whatever, but I don't think that's the important thing. The important thing is I'm a different fighter now.

How did you sharpen your mental approach?
I think part of it is just having a loss like that where I made it to the top and lost. I realized why I lost. I also realized things I needed to work on. I just changed the way I think. I did some mental training to stay focused before and during the fight. But I think the mental change I'm talking about just kind of happened on its own because that's just who I am. I can't accept defeat. I won't accept it. I'm the type of person where I just have to figure out a way to make myself better so it doesn't happen to me again.

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