- Michael Woods, Boxing
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Forget Wilson Gouveia's 12-5 record, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and American Top Team pedigree.
Nate Marquardt isn't shivering with fear at the prospect of taking on Gouveia at UFC 95 in London on Feb. 21.
A 29-year-old Colorado resident who trains with Greg Jackson's merry band of ruffians, Marquardt has an extremely well-rounded skills set. His BJJ is highly regarded, and he has more than dabbled in kickboxing and Kenpo.
That said, Marquardt's record isn't pristine. He is 27-8-2 inside the cage and was thwarted in his first UFC title shot, a one-sided thrashing at the hands of Anderson Silva at UFC 73 in July 2007.
There is, of course, no shame in that. Silva hasn't lost in conventional fashion since 2004.
But on those rare occasions when Marquardt's drive falters even minimally, he can buck himself up with the knowledge that he trains regularly with the man who in many eyes just motored past Silva in the pound-for-pound best department: Georges St. Pierre.
Fresh off his win over B.J. Penn at UFC 94, St. Pierre jetted into Colorado on Feb. 9 to help Marquardt fine-tune for Gouveia.
Must be nice for Marquardt to know that when he is training with GSP -- the best or second-best mixed martial artist in the world -- and holding his own or even getting the upper hand for a spell, his next UFC foe cannot say the same.
"GSP has told me, 'You can beat Anderson Silva,'" Marquardt told ESPN.com. "It was in Colorado after I beat Martin Kampmann [at UFC 88 in September]. He's told other people that they have no idea how good I really am."
Marquardt thought he was showing just that when he took on Thales Leites at UFC 85 in June '08 in London. He was in a groove, taking care of business, when he had a point deducted for an illegal knee in Round 2. He shrugged it off, kept at Leites, and was taking the third round when he had another point taken away, this time for throwing an elbow behind the head. It was actually on the side of the head, but behind the ear, and different referees interpret the rule differently.
Herb Dean's interpretation spelled doom for Marquardt.
The fight went to the cards and Leites got the nod, via split decision, because of the point deductions.
Marquardt says he is over the disappointment. It has to sting a little, especially when you consider the Brazilian Leites (14-1) gets a crack at Silva (23-4) at UFC 97 in April.
"I still disagree with the ref's second point deduction," Marquardt said. "But I got so much good feedback from people who thought I won. Anyone who saw it knows I won."
Marquardt says he and Leites will sort it out eventually in the cage, but for now, Gouveia is in his sights.
"I watched all of his UFC fights on tape and he's looked good in a lot of fights, so-so in others," Marquardt said. "He comes out ready to fight and he's well-rounded. I'll take it to him standing, and you'll see takedowns, and ground and pound. I believe I'm stronger than him in all areas, but his weakest may be his wrestling."
By his own admission, Marquardt had gotten away from the more feral style of fighting he employed in Japan, where he mostly fought from 1999 to 2005. But he says he's regained the mindset of a closer, and will prove it against Gouveia.
"I fight best going forward," said Marquardt, who has been married to wife Tess for four years and has a 9-year-old daughter, Emmalie, from a previous union. "Not just hitting to score points. I hit to do damage. I used to fight that way in Japan but I started to pace myself too much over the years."
Gouveia, 30, was told that Marquardt has been training in London and foresees a stoppage win.
Gouveia laughs off the prediction. "I feel the same way," he said. "I want to finish him also. Of course, I respect him and his coaches. And I think after Silva, he is the most dangerous middleweight. But I am not worried that he trains with GSP. It doesn't matter who you are training with, at the end of the day, it is you in the cage. They close the gate; it is just you and him."
UFC interim heavyweight champion Frank Mir, who is also one of the most astute MMA analysts around, sees Marquardt as the favorite going into the London clash.
"Nate is one of the more technical fighters in the game," Mir told ESPN.com. "He has one of the best guillotines, great hands; he's an awesome athlete. Wilson is tough and talented. But Nate is one of the top middleweights in the world. If he fights Silva again, he poses a threat to him."
UFC hasn't tipped its hand one way or another and designated Marquardt-Gouveia an official eliminator, but signs point in that direction.
And if that comes off, who knows? A St. Pierre protégé like Nate Marquardt just might pass Silva in the pound-for-pound fast lane as well.
Michael Woods, the managing editor of TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.