Doug Marshall sighs and says wistfully that respect is something he plans to earn.
The WEC light heavyweight champion apparently has a lot of work to do.
Challenger Brian Stann, the Marine officer, Iraq War hero and fledgling fighter, is being featured by the WEC on its media tour to promote their title fight on Wednesday at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.
Marshall is not only nowhere to be found in the Yahoo! Sports poll of the world's top fighters, he's also not ranked among the top 10 light heavyweights by either MMA Weekly or Sherdog.com.
It's hard to argue against the 10 men that Sherdog ranked among its best light heavyweights — Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Dan Henderson, Keith Jardine, Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva, Rashad Evans and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou — even though there is no sign of Marshall.
MMA Weekly didn't rank Henderson or Evans, instead putting Ricardo Arona and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on its list, but, again, no Marshall.
The WEC is quickly gaining recognition as one of the world's best promotions. Two of its champions, featherweight Urijah Faber(seventh) and bantamweight Miguel Torres (10th), are ranked among the world's 10 finest pound-for-pound fighters in the latest Yahoo! Sports poll.
There is, it seems, no love or respect anywhere for the man known as "The Rhino," but Marshall seems at peace with his situation.
"I'm always underestimated, so I'm used to it," says Marshall, a one-time heavyweight who is 7-2 entering Wednesday's fight with Stann.
"Everyone has their own opinion. I can't change it by talking. The only thing I can do about it is go out there and fight and win and force people to think of me."
Marshall is a compact ball of fury who erupts from the corner and attacks with zeal. It's clear from the first seconds of the fight that Marshall is a guy who loves his job.
He loves the challenge of proving his superiority man to man and is motivated as much by that as he is by championships and recognition.
Marshall said he simply wanted to try mixed martial arts to see what it was like and discovered he couldn't get enough of it.
"I just wanted to try it, but my thought at the time was that my first fight was going to be my last," Marshall said. "I didn't want to be an old man some day and wonder if I could have done it. I wanted to be able to say, 'I've done that,' when we were sitting around talking about fights. But when I did it the first time, I found out I couldn't stop.
"I love the competition, because it's as pure and basic a competition as you can get. It's one man versus another in a confined area with a minimal amount of rules and a maximum amount of risk. It's an incredible adrenaline rush to be able to prove you're better than another man."
Marshall understands, though, that it's going to take a significant effort to prove he's better than Stann, a powerful striker who has gone 5-0 and never needed a second round.
WEC matchmaker Scott Adams predicts "a very violent fight," which is just the type that Marshall loves. But Marshall is quick to point out that he's not just a 21st-century Tank Abbott, a street brawler with no technique.
In his last outing, Marshall slapped a slick arm bar on Ariel Gandulla and earned a quick submission. So while he expects a slugfest with Stann, he's prepared for whatever it takes to win.
"The bottom line is, winning the fight and keeping (the belt)," Marshall said. "I am growing every day as a fighter. I'm more refined now. The earlier version of 'The Rhino' was more of a brawler, but I can make intelligent decisions now and I have more options in how I can approach a fight. I've done a turnaround in my training under Mike Popp and I'm undefeated under his tutelage. He's made me take things more seriously and realize what it takes to succeed at this level.
"Brian is a very strong guy and he's a really good counter puncher. I have to use more of my speed and mobility in this fight and take it to him."
A win over Stann would significantly enhance his standing in the MMA world, but Marshall knows that it's going to take him longer than it would take others to earn recognition.
Jardine, for instance, lost to Houston Alexander in less than a minute after defeating Forrest Griffin, but he got an opportunity to fight Liddell, arguably the sport's biggest name. And a win over Liddell led to Jardine being ranked third among the top 10 light heavyweights by Sherdog.
Marshall has had no defining fight, such as one against a big name as Liddell, but he's willing to be patient.
"Anyone who knows me understands I'm dying to fight guys like that, but I can only fight the guys the WEC puts in front of me," Marshall said. "I love what I'm doing. I love being the champion. But mostly, I just love to fight. And so, I'm going to get out there and fight and, sooner or later, people are going to take a look and say, 'You know, The Rhino is pretty good.' If you eliminate all the opposition, sooner or later you force people to recognize you. That's what I have to do."
- Doug Marshall
- Brian Stann
- Chuck Liddell