Making the Cut: The Science Behind Nate Marquardt's Cut to 170 Pounds

Nate Marquardt, photo via UFC.com

When Nate Marquardt climbed out of the cage at UFC 128, he shocked the MMA world, something you wouldn't normally expect from the soft spoken, down to earth Christian family man. Lip swollen grotesquely from a Dan Miller punch, a wound that would eventually require stitches, Marquardt was never the less feeling good. He had gone into the fight lighter than he ever had before - and he was considering a move down to the welterweight division.

"Really the only thing I would have to change would be becoming a little more strict on my diet," Marquardt said in an exclusive interview with Bloody Elbow Radio. "The week of the fight, starting the Saturday out, I'd really have to be dieting. At this point, all I did  for my fight with Miller was diet for basically two and a half days and walked on weight. I didn't have to go in the sauna or anything. At 170 I'd have to be a lot more strict the week of the fight and I would have to get in the sauna."

Pundits were more than a little surprised. Well muscled and cut, one of the few MMA fighters with a bodybuilder's physique, Marquardt had never looked small or been over powered in a long and successful career at middleweight. But as his diet got cleaner year round and as he continued to work hard even between fights, it dawned on the Grudge Training Center fighter that he could easily drop a weight class, perhaps improving his chances of taking home a coveted UFC title.

"My goal has always been to get the title. And that's never going to change...I don't want to think about that, because then I'm putting pressure on myself. And it's something I want so much...I did put pressure on myself in a lot of my fights, because I wanted the belt so bad," Marquardt said.  "I just put too much pressure on myself and it prevented me from fighting to my peak performance. That's something that I've worked on a lot and I felt great going into this fight."

At 185 pounds, Marquardt looks enormous. Many questioned his ability to make a cut to welterweight in the wake of his announcement. But dietician and nutritionist P.R. Cole, who has worked with Marquardt and other top fighters like Kenny Florian, says Marquardt's muscle mass actually makes a weight cut easier.

"When you look at people who are incredibly muscular, it tends to be easier for them to do a water cut because that muscle mass holds in so much water," Cole said. "Let's say you have two guys who are 180 pounds and want to get to 170. They may weight the same on the scale but if one guy has more muscle mass, the guy with muscle is going to have an easier time because he's swollen with water."

For the move to be successful, Cole believes it will need to begin right away. An optimum weight cut, she says, begins long before a fighter starts preparing for his next bout. The battle will be fought and won in the months between fights when it's easy for a fighter to take the easy road that leads to junk food and video games instead of concentrating on fitness and diet.

"The first thing you want to do if you want to make a significant drop in weight like that is start the diet as soon as possible, even before you start your serious training camp," Cole said. "A lot of guys who have never done a big drop like that think 'I'm going to be training really hard for eight to twelve weeks during my camp so why don't I just diet then? I can do it all at once.' It's my preference to have the fighter come into camp at the weight he wants to cut from. People think it's just about weight loss. It's really about optimization of athletic performance. Timing food and nutrients to promote workouts and optimal recovery. It's hard to do that when you add on the challenge of creating a calorie deficit.Your performance and recovery can never be 100 percent if you have a calorie deficit while training. So, if you're even pondering a cut like that - start dieting. Before your camp.The sooner you can get  to the weight you really want and start training hard, the easier it's going to be."

An ideal camp for a welterweight Marquardt would begin at approximately 183 pounds. Anything larger and the fighter wastes precious energy cutting weight instead of maximizing workouts. And at the highest level of the game, any wasted time can be the difference between winning and losing. To be your best on the night of the fight, Cole believes the weight cut can be significant, but cautions against going to extremes.

"I like between six and seven percent of your total body weight. Once you get in the realm of eight or nine percent dehydration, that's when it can get very dangerous," Cole said. "When you do more than that, 24 hours may not be enough time to recover. We see it all the time, a guy who looks totally gassed during his fight and people wonder 'Did he not train cardio for this?' No, but he just can't recover from that huge cut. Your body burns through all its glycogen. It's like you ran a marathon the day before and are on empty."

After the break: will two fighters at welterweight lead to more Team Jackson drama?

In the wake of the current tension between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans, like Marquardt two fighters under the Greg Jackson banner, it's fair to question whether the move to welterweight, and the oft stated desire to take home UFC Gold, would further tension in the Greg Jackson alliance. Will we see new tears in an increasingly frayed rope that ties together several schools across North America, including Marquardt's Colorado stomping grounds and Tri-Star in Canada, home of the current UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre? Not at all, Marquardt said. In fact, the idea for the drop was St. Pierre's.

"Georges (St. Pierre) was actually the guy who brought it up to me. I told him how much I was weighing and that I felt great and he said 'Man, have you ever considered dropping to 170? You'd be a beast there and if you feel good, maybe you should do it.' I was like 'Alright, if you think so.' I went and talked to my coaches and heard what they had to say and they were all for it. I still want some fights at 185 - but I think I would do well at 170....I could do either one and I would be happy with either one."

A title shot would be down the road in any event, a road all are willing to cross when they get there but not before. First Marquardt would need to earn his place in a new division. The new matchups possible with the drop to welterweight are staggering. Marquardt at 170, would certainly liven up a division that has seemed a little flat after years of GSP dominance.

"I'd want someone at the top of the division. But for my first fight, I wouldn't necessarily want one of the guys at the very top. But if that's what they wanted me to do, I'm game for it.  I believe the weight cut is going to go fine and I'll be able to do my best," Marquardt said. Climbing to the top of the welterweight division will require plenty of wrestling chops. The road to the title passes through elite MMA wrestlers like Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, but Marquardt isn't concerned. "I feel like I could defend takedowns from anyone. I work with some very high level wrestlers guys that are world class and placed first in Division I wrestling. Those are the guys I train with, so I'm confident in my wrestling, as well as my wrestling defense."

Any successful transition to welterweight ultimately culminates with a title shot - and Marquardt's friend Georges St. Pierre doesn't seem likely to relinquish that belt anytime soon. The two have discussed it - and while Marquardt doesn't relish the thought of fighting a friend, he doesn't rule it out either.

"I don't think you should fight teammates, but when I say teammate I don't necessarily mean somebody who's under the same banner," Marquardt said. "I'm talking about guys that I train with everyday or a guy like Georges where I go out several times a year for a week or two at a time. I wouldn't be where I'm at without guys like that. If I can fight someone else, why would I fight my friend and teammate? Unless it's going to benefit both of us more than fighting someone else - I don't see why I would want to do that. but if there was a case where it was going to benefit both us, no matter what, win or lose...then in that case I might owe it to my teammate and myself to fight him."

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