Nate Quarry never wanted to be one of those prizefighters who treated retirement like a revolving door, but some opportunities are simply too good to pass up. Over five years after his final UFC fight, Quarry emerged from the Oregon greens to meet a young up-and-comer, 19-year-old Jake "The Snake" Beckmann, this past Saturday in a "superfight exhibition" at Full Contact Fighting Federation's Rumble at the Roseland event.
Like most late-stage comeback bids, Quarry fell short, tapping to a second-round ankle lock to send Beckmann home victorious in his MMA debut. But there was more at play here in this battle of UFC veteran versus MMA rookie. Roughly one out of 700 children born every year in the United States are born with Down syndrome, and Beckmann is one of those .14-percent.
Beckmann also happens to be something else though: a diehard MMA fan with a handful of years of training under his belt. And really, what good is all of that training if you can't put it to use?
"I was a little concerned at the beginning of this that people may not understand what our goal is, what we're trying to accomplish here," Quarry told MMAFighting.com. "But the crowd that was there, the place was packed ... wall to wall. I've never been so happy to be the underdog in my whole life, because they were just going nuts for Jacob. When he stepped into the ring, he did the Jon Jones crawl up into the ring wearing his sunglasses.
"It was just so great to hear everyone just screaming and yelling and so supportive of what he's gone through. That was a big part of the reason why I was doing this, to let people know that this isn't a spectacle. This is just a young man with some goals and dreams and things that he wants to accomplish, and if I can be a part of that, I'm going to."
For a few years now, Beckmann has been urging his coach Greg Walker to allow him to fight. For a while, the answer was always the same. You'll fight when you're ready. But with Beckmann, a high school senior, soon nearing graduation, Walker decided to the time was right to make that call. He put the word out that Beckmann was in need of an opponent, and within a few days, Quarry stumbled upon a Facebook post from the wife of UFC fighter Mike Pierce telling the story of the MMA-addicted teenager who simply wanted to live out a dream.
Quarry took upon himself to drive down to Beckmann's gym in Newberg and introduce himself. Within an hour, the former UFC stalwart, the reckless pioneer from TUF 1, he was doing just what he used to do, huffing and puffing inside the sparring cage, only this time alongside a thrilled young superfan.
The fight was booked soon after. The Oregon state commission signed off on the bout as long as it was an exhibition. Beckmann's mother gave her blessing. And come fight day, Quarry soothed a few last-second nerves from his emotional foe.
"I said ‘Jake, you don't have to worry about a thing," Quarry remembers. "'This is all for you. You're the star tonight, I'm just window dressing. I'm coming out there and we're going to do our thing, just like we've done in the gym a few times. You go out there and bring your game and I guarantee you'll be fine.' Because for me, the number-one priority was making sure that Jacob was safe at the end of the night, that there was zero chance of him getting injured.
"A distant second was making sure that I was safe as well and I wasn't injured. But I've taken much worse beatings for causes not nearly as grand, so if I had to take a couple lumps to really help Jacob fulfill his goals and dreams, then I'm all for it."
Lumps did indeed get taken. Beckmann came out "throwing hammers," Quarry recounts with a laugh, and more than a few solid shots landed square on the retiree's chin. Beckmann was relentless with his takedowns. Some worked, others didn't, but when the going got tough, Beckmann fought through both an armbar and a triangle attempt to nearly finish the UFC veteran with an ankle lock at the end of the first round.
By the time the second round started, Beckmann smelled blood. He immediately dumped Quarry onto his back and finished what he started, seizing his first MMA win with an ankle lock submission. The crowd exploded behind their local boy, and the promoters brought out a replica UFC title belt to fit snuggly around the new World Heavyweight Champion's waist. Dream realized.
Afterward, it was announced that through sponsorships and t-shirt sales, the fight raised over $1,000 for Create the Connection, a foundation started by the Beckmann family "dedicated to [exploring] personal empowerment for all people, regardless of diagnosis or physical challenge."
"When Jacob was younger, [his family] was at a hotel in the hot tub. One by one all of the parents of the other kids in the hot tub came and took their children out," Quarry says of the genesis for the foundation. "And [Jacob's mom] just felt so saddened by this, and realized that the reason for this was that people, they really don't know what to expect when they see someone like Jacob, or a special needs person.
"They're a little uncomfortable, perhaps a little nervous, and so she started this website and this, kind of a greeting card that Jacob has to hand out that says: ‘Hey, my name is Jacob. I have Down syndrome. All of us are different in one way or another. My way is a little more visible, but that doesn't mean I'm really that much different than you, so please don't be embarrassed or shy. Come up and say hi to me.' When I heard that message, I said if there's anything I can do to help this, then I'm going to do that."
With his unofficial record one loss thicker, it's now back to retirement for Quarry. The 43-year-old is the brains behind Zombie Cage Fighter, a comic book starring an undead pugilistic protagonist based loosely around Quarry's life. He's always one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit against the UFC, so retired life is busy life. But after his experiences at Rumble at the Roseland, Quarry remains committed to helping Beckmann and Create the Connection raise awareness for the special needs community.
"It's the elephant in the room," Quarry says. "If somebody with special needs walks into a room, everyone notices, but they're so concerned -- especially right now -- with what is the PC thing to do. And all too often people ignore the differences that we have instead of celebrating those differences, or at the very least recognizing that we're different and then trying to learn or be empathetic to what other people are going through."