Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight title challenger, Nate Marquardt, looks to take on power punching New Zealander, James Te Huna, this Saturday morning (June 28, 2014) at UFC Fight Night 43 inside the Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.
To my knowledge, this is the first time a UFC event is headlined by fighters both on consecutive losing streaks.
Marquardt was finished in the first round by welterweight powerhouses Hector Lombard and Jake Ellenberger (hence the move up), while Te Huna was polished off by both Glover Teixeira and Mauricio Rua at light heavyweight (hence the move down).
That's one way to make history.
Regardless, both men will look to bring the fight as they potentially battle for their UFC careers. In this showdown of finishers, whose mixed martial arts (MMA) skills will emerge as superior?
Let's find out.
As one of the most powerful strikers at light heavyweight, Te Huna is almost certain to have a gigantic power advantage over the majority of his opponents at middleweight. Though he does throw some decent leg kicks, Te Huna is primarily a boxer.
On the outside of his boxing range, Te Huna is very active with his feints and movement. The New Zealander keeps his hands very loose, allowing him to smoothly feint or throw punches. This is at the cost of his defense, as he's rather easy to counter.
Still, Te Huna is happy to risk getting countered in order to land his own big punches. He often starts his attack with a number of half speed straight punches. Just trying to touch his opponent, Te Huna is measuring the distance as well as his opponent's reactions to his strikes and feints.
Once Te Huna gets comfortable with his range, he'll begin to fire hard shots in the midst of his slower punches. In particular, he really likes to dart in with a very fast right hand. As he gets more and more confident, Te Huna really finds his rhythm. When this happens, Te Huna puts together brilliant combinations as he stalks his opponent. While slamming his opponent with a bevy of punches, Te Huna still does an excellent job feinting with his hands.
Te Huna really likes uppercuts. If he pins his opponent against the fence or hurts him, Te Huna will look to step in hard with an uppercut or series of them. This can sometimes be a detriment, as uppercuts are relatively easy to counter if they aren't set up well. Te Huna's most recent loss to "Shogun" is the perfect example of what can go wrong when a fighter throws a naked uppercut with lax defense.
Though he started out as a jiu-jitsu specialist, Marquardt has relied more and more on his striking as his career went on. A natural power puncher, Marquardt gained some fame for his incredible combo finishes, such as the one that stopped Wilson Gouveia.
In general, "The Great" uses his boxing to take out his opponent. He's not much of a jabber, preferring to get in close to his opponent and put together combinations of power shots. When Marquardt can close the distance and attack with straights, hooks, and uppercuts, he's extremely dangerous.
This extends to the clinch as well. When Marquardt is in the clinch, he's excellent at breaking away to land a vicious flurry. When Marquardt releases his aggression, he puts together wild and dangerous combinations.
Marquardt has some pretty strong kicks, but he does not have a complete kicking game. That means that although he can occasionally land or hurt his opponent with kicks, but he also looks a bit lost against an experienced kickboxer.
In fact, Marquardt's inability to strike at range accounts for many of his losses.
The most recent example of this is his battle with Tarec Saffiedine. "The Sponge" kept Marquardt's power punches away with a sharp jab and digging leg kicks, leaving Marquardt too far away to accomplish much. By the end of the fight, Marquardt has been abused and was limping around.
Luckily for Marquardt and the fans, Te Huna will be more than willing to engage him from the boxing range.
As I mentioned above, Marquardt does not utilize his ground game nearly as much as he used to. However, his combination of physical strength, sound technique, and smooth transitions still makes him a formidable wrestler.
Marquardt's primary takedown is his double leg. He often shoots after backing his opponent up to the cage with the threat of his punches. Once Marquardt gets in deep on the shot, he lifts his opponent high into the air and finishes with a heavy slam.
Transitionally, Marquardt does very well working in the clinch and then switching to his shot. Either with punches or an inside trip, Marquardt distracts his opponent and pushes him backwards before changing levels. This is where Marquardt's best setups exist, as he often shoots from too far out if he doesn't get his opponent against the cage first.
Te Huna, on the other hand, relies almost entirely on clinch throws. After securing a body lock, Te Huna will muscle around his opponent and look to lift them into the air. It's hardly the most technical approach, but Te Huna was strong even as a light heavyweight and made it work.
If his opponent was able to keep his balance against the throw, Te Huna will look to land a trip as his opponent bounces around. Or, he'll attempt a sacrifice throw, like the one he landed against Alexander Gustafsson.
Defensively, both men are rather similar. Against middling competition, the two fighters use their strong sprawls to avoid takedowns and will even punish their foes for trying. However, as they face more elite opposition, their takedown defense usually falters.
In this case, I expect the wrestling of both men to cancel out, at least until one man proves to have a conditioning advantage.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Frankly, Te Huna doesn't much care for submitting people. Since winning his first three fights by rear naked choke back in 2004, he hasn't earned a single submission victory. Recently, when he has taken his opponent to the mat -- such as in his bout with Jimmo -- Te Huna has focused entirely on landing damaging ground and pound.
On the other hand, Marquardt has earned a second degree black belt in jiu-jitsu. He's a very skilled submission grappler but very rarely uses those skills. He may have 15 submission victories, but the most recent was a guillotine win over Jeremy Horn (an extremely talented grappler) way back in 2008. He does still hunt for that guillotine on occasion, but he's reluctant to commit to it since Okami used it to reverse the position.
Though Marquardt does have the submission edge, it's hard to make judgement based on fights that happened around the same time that Fedor Emelianenko was fighting in Affliction.
Luckily, Marquardt has shown off his bottom game a bit more recently.
When faced with the crushing top games of Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami, Marquardt was able to repeatedly threaten with submissions. He forced Okami to return to his feet with the threat of a heel hook and actually managed to sweep Sonnen with a kimura in the third round of their bout.
Defensively, there is a very major difference between these two men.
Te Huna does not react well to choke attempts, as he either panics or rests in a bad spot and lets the choke get put on tighter. Alternatively, Marquardt is very aware of his opponent's attempts and defends well. He even managed to fight his way out of Rousimar Palhares' heel hook, which is an accomplishment in its own right.
If the fight does end up on the mat, Marquardt has a big advantage should he choose to use it.
Best chance for success
In all honesty, the UFC has handed Te Huna an opponent that should play directly into his game plan. That's not to say Marquardt isn't a dangerous fighter or cannot win, but his usual style of boxing in close range to his opponent will very likely lead him to disaster against the much larger, more powerful, and more durable fighter.
Te Huna just needs to fight his regular game plan: rely on his feints to open up shots, push Marquardt back to the fence, then unleash a flurry of power punches. At this point in his career, Marquardt cannot absorb many of Te Huna's punches.
As long as Te Huna forces the issue, he should connect enough to put "The Great" to sleep.
On the other hand, Marquardt will have to fight very intelligently in order to defeat Te Huna. The New Zealand native was a very large light heavyweight with fairly mediocre conditioning. Now that he has to cut an additional 20 pounds, his cardio will likely suffer quite a bit.
That means Marquardt's priority for the first couple rounds should be survival. Whenever Te Huna looks to close the distance, Marquardt should do likewise with a clinch or takedown attempt. Regardless of what happens with the attempt, it will fatigue Te Huna and it cannot be worse than having Te Huna tee off on him.
As Te Huna slows down -- and he will slow down in the late rounds due to his weight cut -- Marquardt should turn to his ground game. Once Marquardt gets on top of a tired Te Huna, the fight is very likely his. Eventually, Te Huna will offer up his neck, and Marquardt can stave off the pink slip.
Will Te Huna get a knockout victory in front of his home crowd, or will Marquardt earn his first win at middleweight since 2011?