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Nate Marquardt: 'I Feel Like It's My Time'

These are strange times in the UFC middleweight division. If you don't believe it, just ask Nate Marquardt.

Back in February he was one win away from getting another crack at the 185-pound title. A little over nine months later he's still one win away, thanks in part to a positive drug test from the last man to beat him, but also thanks to a bizarre mid-fight mental lapse from his most recent opponent.

Now he heads off to what will be, one way or another, a career-defining bout at UFC 122 in Germany – a country where you can buy a ticket to a UFC event, but can't find it on TV.

See what I mean? Strange times. Only for Marquardt, the weirdness has started to turn in his favor. Rather than ask questions about why or how, he's opted to go with the flow and worry about the only thing he can control: beating Yushin Okami.

"When [the UFC] offered this fight, I jumped right on it," Marquardt told MMA Fighting. "When you get to the top of the division, there tends to be less fights available. The reason I took this fight on such short notice is because it's for a title shot."

The reason it's for a title shot, of course, is because Okami's previous opponent, Vitor Belfort, got shuffled into a title shot after Chael Sonnen's positive drug test in California nullified his promise of an immediate rematch with UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva.

While Sonnen deals with that issue, Belfort gets a crack at gold and Marquardt and Okami duke it out to see who's next in line. And yes, Sonnen's appeal date with CSAC is coming up soon, but Marquardt isn't expecting him to emerge free and clear and ready to jump back into action once he's had his day in court.

"My understanding of how the commission works is that maybe he has an excuse or a reason for whatever happened, and maybe it's not what everyone expected, but at the same time, if you tested positive for something that wasn't supposed to be in your system, it doesn't really matter what your reason is," Marquardt said.

In other words, even if Sonnen owns a victory over Marquardt, he's probably going to have to get back in line if he wants another shot at the belt.

The irony is, Marquardt, who's spent three years trying to prove to the UFC that he's deserving of a rematch with Silva, had no objection to Sonnen getting the nod for an immediate redo after his performance at UFC 117.

"I think it's justifiable," Marquardt said. "I had a shot and I have to prove that I'm a different fighter, that I pose a different threat. In Chael's case, it made sense to me that he was getting an automatic rematch because he won 95% of the fight and then lost the last few seconds in a five-round fight.

"For me, I'm just happy to have the opportunity again. I feel like it's my time. I've improved so much and I feel like I'm a different fighter."

All that's standing in his way now is Okami, who has very quietly amassed an impressive 9-2 record in the UFC, and all without ever getting a title shot of his own. His fighting style might not be such that it makes fans leap out of their seats with excitement, but among fighters he has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most powerful fighters in the middleweight class.

"I've seen, and heard, that he's pretty big and strong," said Marquardt. "But what I have a lot of here in Denver are guys who are big and strong with good takedowns, so that's something I feel I'm already ready for. ...I have good takedowns of my own and good takedown defense, especially against judo-style takedowns, which is what he tends to use. Really, I feel very confident."

Then again, the last time Marquardt fought for the number one contender spot he also felt pretty confident. Maybe even too confident, he admitted afterwards, and the end result was a surprising decision loss to Sonnen in a fight where oddsmakers had pegged him a 3-1 favorite.

On Saturday he enters another bout as a significant favorite, with another chance to fight his way toward a chance at the UFC title that has eluded him for the past half-decade. If Marquardt really wants to show what a different fighter he is, there's no better time than the present, however strange that present may be.

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