–Kenny Rice

His career was dead, period. Fired in June 2011 by the UFC after failing to receive medical clearance for a fight because of an elevated testosterone level. That King of Pancrase, the UFC middleweight title loss to Anderson Silva in UFC 73, the 31 wins in a stellar career, all seemed so far removed.

Nate Marquardt was a proud fighter who had lost both the biggest organization on the planet and his pride and livelihood all in one painfully fell swoop.

There were flirtations with BAMMA, a signed deal last July, but fights never materialized and by January the contract was gone. He was still a fighter with no one to fight for.

“I did worry but I never gave up hope until basically I’m told that I can’t fight anymore,” Marquardt told me before the latest installment of Inside MMA.

Hope came back in a blindingly surprising move in February when he was brought back into the Zuffa (owners of the UFC) fold with their Strikeforce affiliate. He had a contract again, he was going to be able to making a living again for his wife Tessa and their three children.

But wait – there’s more. Not only is he returning to the cage this Saturday night in Portland, Oregon, he’s fighting for the Welterweight Championship against undefeated Tyron Woodley. He has a new home and a new weight class, dropping from middleweight which he had fought at virtually every stop of his career.

“170 (pounds) is my new home. If I had to fight at (1) 85 I would. But I would still do my diet. Even now against heavy guys (in training) I am so much quicker. My punches and attacks have doubled.”

Yes, the diet. An important phase in this rebirth of Marquardt. When the 33-year-old walked into the studio dressing room with his sport coat on, there is an instant notice of a leaner physique and a more youthful countenance. A product of eliminating a product, Testosterone Replacement Therapy. The reason for the firing last year.

It’s not ancient history. The positive test for steroids in August 2005 certainly is, but as much as he wants to move forward from the embarrassment in 2011 he knows there will be speculation until he has the chance to show off his new frame and prove he is every bit the fighter he was minus some bulk.

The diet is all part of that new wholesome approach. There is nothing secretive or special about it, just common sense tips from the dietician he started working with when he lost his job.

“It’s something I’ve been dealing with a lot last year (replacing the TRT) and finding ways to get my body to react the way I want it to. It’s nothing special (the diet) I still eat carbohydrates and grains. But I eat a lot more vegetables and cut out high fatty food. And I watch my calorie intake. I used to train and eat five to seven thousand calories a day, I was burning them off anyway working out twice a day. But now I limit myself to half that amount and I have even more energy.”

What he says has never changed in his religious conviction, the reason he attributes for any moments of feeling down over the last year going away quickly. “It’s all in my faith. That where I get my strength from: the Lord. My faith that God is going to bring me out of it is a huge stress relief. If I had to do it on my own I would be one stressed out dude.”

Even his return to action for the first time since winning a decision over Dan Miller March 19, 2011 in UFC 128 doesn’t seem – on the surface – to faze him. Even with a belt on the line against the formidable Woodley. “I think I’m going to knock him out,” he states without boasting. “I take him seriously. I take getting back seriously. I’m looking for a way to go out and fight like I can.”

That he is back is already a victory for the mind and spirit of Marquardt.

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Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten LIVE every Monday night on Inside MMA, and check out Kenny’s new book “Not Hit Yet” an insider look at the MMA world in 2012, available at Amazon now

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