MMA History: The Nate Marquardt vs. Ricardo Almeida Controversy

via www.pancrase.us

Ever since he was pulled from his UFC on Versus 4 main event with Rick Story, Nate Marquardt has been a subject of much discussion. Some of that discussion has focused on his past, pointing out the number of controversial events he's been involved with before. Two of the biggest controversies took place inside the UFC - there was the Rousimar Palhares fight where Palhares initially questioned if Nate was greased before later withdrawing the complaint and apologizing, along with the notorious 2005 Ivan Salaverry fight that saw Nate test positive for banned substances and suspended. But one other non-UFC incident often comes up. In 2003, a Pancrase fight between Marquardt and Ricardo Almeida turned ugly, giving Marquardt his first taste of controversy. So let's go back and revisit the Almeida incident to try and figure out what really happened. 

By 2003, Nate Marquardt had established himself as a strong force in Japan's Pancrase organization. This venerable company was one of the oldest in Japan, and had played home to some of the sport's all time greats including Frank Shamrock, Ken Shamrock, and Bas Rutten among many others. In 1999, Marquardt made his Pancrase debut, immediately making a splash and winning the first ever Pancrase Middleweight title one year later. Amazingly, he was only 21 years old at the time. Marquardt stayed very busy in his early years, putting together a record of 19-6-1 over his first 4 years in the sport.

Looking back at these fights, you see Nate already becoming the well rounded fighter he is today. Marquardt used all the tools in his arsenal to win, including wrestling, submissions, and stand-up. For a good look at what he was capable of, take a look at this quick KO of Izuru Takeuchi in defense of his Pancrase title in early 2003, as well as this ground and pound beating of Steve Gomm in the IFC later that year. With impressive wins like these under his belt, Nate headed into Pancrase's November 2003 show ready to defend his belt against one of his toughest challengers yet - Ricardo Almeida.

Almeida's path through MMA is an odd and winding road. The Renzo Gracie trained grappling whiz started his career with a single win in Pride before moving to the UFC. There, he looked good, but only went 1-2 before shipping back to Japan, this time as part of Pancrase. Once in Pancrase, the submission specialist thrived, winning four straight against big names like Ikuhisa Minowa, Kazuo Misaki, and Yuki Sasaki to set up his challenge of Marquardt. Almeida's style was what you would expect of a Gracie black belt - drag his opponent to the mat and use superb positional control to earn the submission. Here's a nearly perfect example of this style as Almeida faces Osami Shibuya in Pancrase.

On November 30, 2003, Nate Marquardt and Ricardo Almeida were set to face off at Pancrase Hybrid 10 in the biggest Middleweight title fight in Pancrase history, and one of the biggest international Middleweight fights of the era. Heading into the showdown, the battle lines were clearly drawn - could Almeida get the champion down to the mat and work his magic? Or could the stronger Marquardt use a combination of wrestling and superior stand-up to counteract the BJJ master? 

Video of the fight, including the controversial post-fight actions, in the full entry.

For five minutes, the two men engage in the kind of battle many expected, with Almeida looking for the submission as Nate tries everything in his power to escape. It's a great tactical war, but in the end, Almeida stands victorious thanks to a well timed guillotine choke. Sadly, the quality work from both men would be overshadowed by what happened next.

As you can see in the video, once Almeida sinks the choke in, Marquardt taps. However, Almeida does not immediately release the hold, keeping it on for a brief moment after the tap and the referee stepping in. Once it's released, a frustrated Marquardt throws a punch at the downed Almeida, prompting Almeida's corner man Renzo Gracie to jump in and kick Nate square in the face. Luckily, cooler heads prevail at that point, and an incident that could have easily degenerated into a post-fight brawl comes to and end.

Almeida later apologized for the incident, claiming responsibility for it and explaining his and Renzo's actions:

First of all I apologize for the incident and personally take sole responsibility for all that happened. The truth is I held the choke until the ref broke it. And before letting go I grimed toward a photographer just behind the ropes. It was a release of emotions; I did not mean any disrespect toward my opponent at all. It was years of training, dedication, hardship, and to win a title being able to tap my opponent out in the first round, I just couldn't help but smile.

I feel I started the whole incident... after I released Nathan he punched me in the face... Renzo jumped up and kneed him in the chest to get him off of me... then I jumped up and thought about retaliating... and Martin Rooney, my other corner man was able to stop me.

...

The Reason why I have Renzo in my corner is that he will be on my side, weather I am right or wrong. Actually the reason why Renzo was there so fast was because he realized that I was holding the guillotine and not letting go so he jumped up already knowing I was doing something that could cause controversy and even retaliation. He made sure he was there to protect me if it was needed. He did not think twice about the repercussions... I believe that shows his true character... putting his reputation on the line for the safety of his fighter. I would not want anyone else in my corner.

Almeida would never defend the title, following this fight up with a 2004 win in Pride before walking away from the sport for 4 years. He made his return in 2008, going 5-3 before retiring earlier this year. Marquardt had 3 more Pancrase fights before coming to the UFC in 2005.

As for this incident, while it does tend to get brought up often, the reality is that it has likely been blown out of proportion over the years. In the heat of the moment, two fighters both behaved unprofessionally, but quickly calmed and apologized to each other. For Marquardt, the stigma of this moment, combined with other controversial moments, seems to have forever changed fan perception of Nate the Great. Is this incident worthy of changing the view on Marquardt? Does it show he is a cheater? That's a question every fan has to answer for himself, but hopefully, by taking a close look at the reality of what happened, every fan can make a more informed decision.

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