As Nate Marquardt (32-10-2 MMA, 1-0 SF) fielded questions from the media this past Saturday night, it was fairly obvious most of the reporters assumed he is UFC bound.
After being pressed a little, the 33-year-old Strikeforce welterweight champ admitted he also has the same perception. However, Marquardt insisted he's not looking past his Jan. 12 date with Tarec Saffiedine (13-3 MMA, 5-1 SF), even if it seems everyone else is.
"I've made that mistake before," Marqaurdt told MMAjunkie.com (UFC blog for UFC news, UFC rumors, fighter interviews and event previews/recaps
). "Honestly, I assume that I'll be in UFC after this fight. But I'm not concerned about that, so it's not really an issue for me. I just look forward to my fight, and I know I'm fighting a tough guy, so I'm ready for it mentally.
"I've had fights in Japan before where I thought I was just going to walk all over the guy. I probably could have, but when you go in with that mentality and the guy turns out to be tough, it makes the fight long."
Marquardt, of course, is a familiar name to UFC fans. He fought 14 times for the promotion between 2005 and 2011 before being quickly ushered out of the organization when he was unable to obtain medical clearance for a June 2011 fight with Rick Story and was pulled from the headlining matchup on weigh-in day by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission.
At the time, UFC President Dana White unceremoniously announced Marquardt's release in a brief video clip, and the relationship between promoter and fighter appeared strained, at best.
However, Marquardt was later brought back under the Zuffa umbrella as a Strikeforce fighter, and "The Great" insists there are no lingering hard feelings.
"That was one of the toughest things in my career, but no hard feelings," Marquardt said. "I look to the future. I'm happy where I'm at, and I feel like I'm blessed."
During his time away from the octagon, Marquardt transformed himself from a middleweight to a 170-pounder, and his first bout at the weight was an impressive Strikeforce championship win over a then-undefeated Tyron Woodley.
"When I won the Strikeforce title, that was like redemption to me," Marquardt said. "There were a lot of things leading up to that that were really good for me, but that was the climax right there."
Marquardt now headlines Strikeforce's final fight card, which takes place Jan. 12 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City and airs on Showtime and Showtime Extreme. Saffiedine is still a bit of an unknown to the casual fan, but he's shown great promise in a recent win streak over the likes of Roger Bowling, Tyler Stinson and Scott Smith.
"He's very tough," Marquardt said. "I haven't seen him get finished. Very good striking.
"He trains at Team Quest, so he's well-rounded. But I just feel like I'm a better fighter, a better athlete, and if I come in there with my 'A' game, I'm going to be able to finish him."
And then make his way back to the UFC for the first time since March 2011.
Marquardt doesn't know exactly where he'll fit into the UFC's 170-pound title picture, but he doesn't want to take a slow road to the top. Instead, he's hoping to face a big-name opponent and looks to March's UFC 158 event – which features key welterweight fights of champion Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit vs. Rory MacDonald and Johny Hendricks vs. Jake Ellenberger – for potential targets.
"There's a lot of guys at welterweight in the UFC that I want to fight that are going to be good fights – a lot of tough guys," Marquardt said. "That March card is just stacked. Honestly, any one of those guys – I want to fight the winner of those fights."
But first, it's Saffiedine, and Marquardt knows it's important to leave Strikeforce on a winning stark and with the belt wrapped around his waist. And while he insists he's not looking past his next opponent, even if others are, Marquardt admits it's a good feeling to be on the cusp of a return to the UFC.
"It's a dream come true," Marquardt said. "I'm just excited to be here and excited for my upcoming fight. I'm ready to go."