UFC 158: Rory MacDonald’s injury gives Nate Marquardt a second chance in the UFC

Once upon a time, Dana White vowed that Nate Marquardt’s UFC days were over. But after a surprising turn of events, it now seems “The Great” will be getting a second chance at UFC 158: GSP vs. Diaz. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

With the way injuries have plagued the UFC in the past year, anytime a card is announced fans don’t drool in anticipation so much as they grimace and await the inevitable bad news.

So it is with UFC 158: GSP vs. Diaz, which saw an unfortunate injury to Rory MacDonald set off an MMA version of musical chairs. But as is so often the case, one person’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. And now that the music’s stopped, it seems former UFC middleweight contender Nate “the Great” Marquardt is getting a second chance in the UFC.

The sequence of events started when co-main eventer Rory MacDonald fell off of the card with a neck injury. He had been set to rematch Carlos Condit in a highly anticipated fight – not only did Condit hand MacDonald his only UFC loss to date, but Rory’s pre-fight trash talk had reach Patrick Bateman-levels of weird.

Instead, fellow welterweight contender Johny Hendricks (who many believe has a legitimate case to be #1 contender) was moved from his fight with Jake Ellenberger to take MacDonald’s place against Condit. In making this move, the UFC has shown that it’s clearly learned the lessons of this past year. UFC 158 was stacked with welterweights – 6 of the 11 fights on the card were in the 170-pound division. So when MacDonald was forced to pull out, there were plenty of other top welterweights ready to step up.

So Johny Hendricks was bumped up into the co-main event against Condit, and while that may not be as intriguing a fight for the fans, it’s a great fight for Hendricks. Already the de facto #1 contender, Hendricks now gets the greater exposure of being in the co-main event (which he certainly deserves) as well as the opportunity to test himself against a guy who just fought GSP. This will be the perfect fight to see how Hendricks could potentially stack up against the champ, and with a dominant victory his case for a title shot is pretty much undeniable.

Hendricks moving up still leaves a hole in the card, as fellow top welterweight Jake Ellenberger now found himself without a dance partner. Not for long, though, as the UFC announced today that Nate Marquardt would be the guy to replace Hendricks against Ellenberger.

This announcement didn’t exactly come out of left field, but it was a surprise nonetheless. Marquardt was originally set to make his UFC welterweight debut in June of 2011, before news came back that he had failed his pre-fight medicals. Marquardt, who uses Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) exceeded his allowed pre-fight testosterone levels. As a result, he was bounced not only from his fight, but from the UFC itself.

It’s tough to overstate how PO’ed Dana White seemed with Marquardt at the time. He claimed to be “disgusted” by Marquardt’s failed test, his second in his UFC career (he was suspended in 2006 for taking Nandrolone prior to his victory over Ivan Salaverry). Here are White’s exact words on the subject from a year and a half ago:

“I’m sure you heard that Nate Marquardt is out,” White said “It’s true. He failed his medicals. Not only is he out of this fight, out of the main event on Versus – he will no longer be with the UFC.”

So to see him back again – in a featured bout, no less – is a bit jarring.

Then again, I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering Marquardt’s career trajectory since leaving the UFC. He initially signed with UK promotion BAMMA, but never made his debut with that organization due to scheduling or money issues (depending who you ask).

When Nate finally did return to the cage, it was under the Strikeforce banner, then owned by Zuffa llc, the same parent company that owns the UFC. He was matched against Tyron Woodley in a bout for the vacant Strikeforce welterweight title, which he would go on to win. At the time, Marquardt’s signing with a Zuffa-owned promotion raised a few eyebrows, though the promotional logic was hard to argue against. Marquardt’s name added to the legitimacy of the Strikeforce world title fight, while having him compete in Strikeforce meant Dana could keep his “not in the UFC” promise without issue.

Nate would go on to drop the Strikeforce welterweight title in his next fight, which at the time I figured was a death knell for his potential comeback to the UFC. Had he left the now defunct Strikeforce promotion as champion, he could have campaigned for a title shot the same way Luke Rockhold and Daniel Cormier are now. Without the belt, he was just another fighter on Dana White’s sh*t list.

Except when he needs a short-notice replacement, apparently.

It will be very interesting to see where Marquardt goes from here in what is essentially a no-risk fight for the UFC. Should he lose, they can cut him again if they want, though they’ll probably keep him on as another shark in the increasingly crowded welterweight tank. Should he win, a victory over Jake Ellenberger won’t propel him to a title shot, and the UFC can continue to use his name, history with the promotion, and experience to test their top guys.

Here’s hoping Marquardt finds the sort of consistency at 170-pounds that he once had at 185 – and doesn’t melt through any athletic comission test cups while he’s doing it.

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