LAS VEGAS - Unlike past fights, Nate (The Great) Marquardt knows what awaits him if he beats Chael Sonnen in the co-main event of UFC 109 Saturday. A title shot.
Marquardt's last outing against Brazilian Demian Maia at UFC 102 was widely considered a title eliminator. Marquardt did his part by taking just 21 seconds to floor the jiu-jitsu ace, only to find out later that Vitor (The Phenom) Belfort had leapfrogged him in the 185-pound contenders' race.
Belfort will meet champion Anderson Silva in an all-Brazilian matchup at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi on April 12.
In the interim, Marquardt (32-8-2) takes on a dangerous opponent in Sonnen (25-10-1) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center (available on pay-per-view).
With 42 fights under his belt, the 30-year-old Marquardt has been around the mixed martial arts block. He is also one of the more grounded fighters around. So he has focused more on winning than worrying about the championship belt.
Still, the sands have shifted recently.
Even UFC president Dana White has seemed a bit confused at times as to the next step in a division that is ruled with an iron fist by Silva, who is 8-0 since taking the belt from Rich Franklin at UFC 64 in October 2006.
Complicating matters was the fact that Silva had already beaten both Marquardt and fellow contender Dan Henderson. Maia would have been a fresh face and an easy matchup to promote - a fellow Brazilian, unbeaten with a sterling jiu-jitsu pedigree. But Marquardt ended that scenario with one right hand.
And a possible Marquardt-Henderson challenger eliminator - something the Silva camp favoured - was rendered moot when Henderson was unable to come to contract terms with the UFC and signed with Strikeforce.
Belfort moved up the queue with a first-round KO win over Franklin at UFC 103 in his return to the UFC.
Marquardt says when it came to a title shot, he was told "maybe" before the Maia fight.
"I'm sure if Maia would have won, he would have got a shot for sure," he said without bitterness. "It's one of those things where I wasn't told I would get it for sure. And afterwards they actually offered me Henderson at first. I was excited about that. But then that fell through and Vitor got the shot. There wasn't really anybody else for me to fight besides Chael.
"He's not very well known but he's a very tough guy," Marquardt added of Sonnen. "I really don't have a lot to gain by fighting him as far as my rankings or popularity. But at the same time I don't want to just sit and wait for a fight. I want to fight now."
Marquardt is 4-1 since being stopped by Silva at UFC 73 in July 2007. The lone loss, via split decision to Thales Leites at UFC 85, was due to having two points deducted during the fight. The Marquardt camp disputed at least one of those deductions.
Since then, the Denver-based fighter has dispatched Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann, Wilson Gouveia and Maia. And he has looked good every time, especially against Maia in a performance that earned him knockout of the night.
"It was a huge fight. He was ranked very high and he was very popular. Everybody was talking about him. He was undefeated. All those things. I turned a lot of heads and gained a lot of fans from that, so I'm very happy with that fight."
After flooring Maia in spectacular fashion- knocking him through the air with a right to the chin as Maia tried to launch a kick - Marquardt showed his class by electing not to throw another punch at the defenceless Brazilian, who was clearly down, dazed and out.
Marquardt remembers the losses as well as the wins, calling the Silva defeat a turning point in his career. It showed him he had to unleash the predatory side of his personality rather than play it safe against elite opposition.
"If I'm tense and conservative when I fight, then it really limits my abilities. I have so many techniques and skill sets that I'm good at, if I hold back, what good is it for me to have those skill sets? I learned a lot from that fight. Every once in while still I think about that fight and try to learn from it."
Sonnen, submitted by Maia at UFC 95, is coming off an impressive win over Yushin Okami last time out at UFC 104 where he basically manhandled the big Japanese fighter.
Okami has made a career out of outmuscling opponents. But Sonnen, a full-time realtor when not fighting, used his superior wrestling skills to dominate the bout.
"He looked very good against Okami, pretty much controlled him with takedowns," said Marquardt. "On the feet, it just looked like he basically controlled him with his high pace. He didn't really land too much, he just threw a lot of stuff and Okami didn't really fire anything back."
Marquardt calls Sonnen a world-class wrestler - he's a former NCAA champion and U.S. Olympic team alternate - but believes he has more weapons, particularly when it comes to the standup side of the game.
"For sure. I see a lot of mistakes that Chael makes and a lot of ways that I can capitalize on it. He's improved a lot but I've worked on my standup for 15 years and I don't think he's worked on it for that long."
The two know each other. Before joining Greg Jackson's camp in Albuquerque, Marquardt trained briefly with Sonnen at Team Quest.
"I liked him a lot, I think he's a very tough guy, a very nice guy, I have a lot of respect for him," said Marquardt.
Marquardt, meanwhile, continues to improve his game with more than a few Canadian helpers. He regularly trains in Montreal with welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, David (The Crow) Loiseau and Denis Kang, and coaches Firas Zahabi and Jon Chaimberg.
"We love it up there," said Marquardt. "It's good training, good food and good friends."
Things are going well outside the cage as well. Marquardt, who has a 10-year-old daughter, is preparing for another addition to the family. His wife is some six months pregnant.