Fight Night

A Denver fighter takes on the ultimate challenge.

Nate Marquardtdoesn't seem like the type of guy who likes to beat others into submission, choking them within seconds of blacking out. Because when Nate "The Great" Marquardt isn't fighting in the eight-sided ring, he's at home with his family or at church with God.

And if it's God's will, Marquardt says, the 28-year-old Coloradan will claim the Ultimate Fighting Championship's middleweight title this Saturday, July 7, before an anticipated sold-out crowd at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California — and a pay-per-view audience around the globe.

"I like going into fights where there's pressure," he explains. "That's where I perform best. To me, this is no more important than any of the other big fights I've had — but at the same time, if you compare it to my other fights, it is the biggest."

And Marquardt has had some big fights. Eight years ago, after graduating from Wheat Ridge High School and attending the University of Colorado at Denver for a couple of years, he quit his desk job at Qwest and moved to Japan so that he could fight in Pancrase, a sports league that is to that country what the NFL is to this one. In Japan, Marquardt battled national hero Kunioku Kiuma an epic four times — and won three of those bloody battles. But he sustained damages in the process: Marquardt has broken his hand and fingers, and he's busted his nose so often that he had to have surgery so he could breathe clearly.

In 2003 he returned to Denver, and he now owns a gym in Aurora. But he's continued fighting and has won all four of his UFC bouts, three of which went the distance.

"He's the real deal," says Mike Nickels, a fellow fighter and owner of Twisted Sol tattoo shop. "And he's all laid-back, mellow, soft-spoken."

Nickels, too, has won a couple of fights since he was featured on Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter and in Westword last year ("No Pain, No Gain," May 11, 2006). He's also trained some with Marquardt in anticipation of UFC 73, because before Marquardt steps into the ring for his title shot against Brazilian Anderson Silva, Nickels will take on "American Psycho" Stephan Bonnar on the under-card. And that's not the end of the Denver connections. Undefeated, 24-year-old Alvin Robinson will be squaring off against Kenny Florian at the Saturday-night fights.

"It was always a dream of mine to be a professional fighter, but that's not always realistic, so I kind of kept that as a secret," Marquardt says. "When you tell people you have a dream, a lot of times they shoot it down. And if it didn't happen, I didn't want to be the kind of guy who looked like he just talked about something and didn't follow through."

But Marquardt followed through — and now he has a shot at the championship. "It will change my life for sure as far as my fighting career," he says, "but I don't want it to change too much more. I still want to be the same humble person and hang out with my family and the same friends. Once I win, I'll have to set new goals for myself — but now I'm just focused on winning."

Scene and herd:As the Highland area gentrifies — fast — at least the natives in northwest Denver are keeping their sense of humor over the yupscale invasion. When a bunch of nuevo-urban hipsters cycled past on Sunday, a group of neighborhood kids shouted after them: "Hey, where's your iPhone?"

 
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