PORTLAND, Ore. – There are two ways to the top in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
There are fighters who get the job done in the octagon, click with the crowd and use their charisma to turn into ticket/pay-per-view sellers and are put on the fast track to stardom.
Then there is the other category of headliners: guys who lack glitz but force their way to the top through hard work and flawless execution. Saturday night at the Rose Garden, middleweight Nate Marquardt reminded the mixed martial arts world he belongs in the latter category.
Marquardt (29-8-2), the former Japanese King of Pancrase champion, isn't flashy, isn't boastful and doesn't talk trash. But the veteran made his case for a shot at Anderson Silva's title with a devastating knockout of previously unbeaten Demian Maia at UFC 102.
Maia (12-1), who is known for a superior jiu-jitsu game but untested standup, appeared to be winding up for a high kick or knee in the opening seconds. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, he left himself wide open for a nasty right hand that landed flush on the jaw, dropping Maia to the mat.
Seeing Maia knocked silly, Marquardt cocked his fist but held off on a follow-up. Referee Dave Hagen stopped the fight at 21 seconds.
"We looked at the tapes and saw some things he did with his kicks," said Marquardt. "I injured myself about two weeks before the fight and I knew I wasn't going to be able to do some of my usual counters, so we just decided if that happened, I'll come right in with the overhand right." The victory puts the Wyoming native back in the mix for a shot at Silva's middleweight title. Marquardt got a crack at the crown two years ago at UFC 73, but was TKO'd in the first round. Since then, Marquardt has won four of five fights, the only loss a controversial decision against Thales Leites in which Marquardt was docked two points for fouls and lost a split decision.
After the match, UFC president Dana White indicated he hasn't made up his mind on who will face Silva next. Dan Henderson, whom Silva defeated at UFC 82, also seems ready for a rematch. White would also not rule out placing Marquardt and Henderson in a No. 1 contender match.
But Marquardt told the crowd his opinions right after the fight, coming as close to trash talk as you're ever going to hear: "If you want someone to go in there and kick Anderson Silva's butt, then give the title shot to me."
Redemption for Silva: Thiago Silva has lived for seven months with the memories of a brutal knockout loss. At January's UFC 94, Silva was on the wrong end of a bad knockout at the hands of current light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
But Silva rebounded from his only career loss with a quick victory over the tough Keith Jardine on Saturday night. Jardine left his hands low and charged in after Silva, who met him with a crushing left to the jaw. Silva landed three more punches before it became clear the grounded Jardine wasn't defending. Referee Herb Dean called it at 1:35.
"It was a long way to come back after the last loss," Silva said through an interpreter. "Jardine is a tough guy and a unique fighter and I'm just glad I got the win."
The victory ensures the hard-hitting Silva stays in the hunt at light heavyweight. Twelve of his 13 victories have been via finish, including all five of his UFC wins.
"Thiago's a beast," said White. "We know how tough Jardine is. Realistically, his loss was to Lyoto Machida. The light heavyweight division has so many good guys, and he's right up there."
As for Jardine, the loss likely signals the end of his run as a UFC pay-per-view co-headliner. While he'll no doubt have a spot on the card as long as he wants due to his hard-fighting style, he has now lost three of his past four fights, two via first-round knockout.
Tough night for the locals: Despite a raucous pro-Oregon crowd, which turned the decibels up to rock-concert levels for the main event, combatants with local ties mostly came up short Saturday night. Eugene's Evan Dunham opened the night with a unanimous decision victory over Marcus Aurelio, but former "Ultimate Fighter" contestants and Portland natives Ed Herman and Chris Leben both lost, in addition to main eventer Randy Couture. Herman blew out his knee in a second-round loss to Aaron Simpson, and Leben thrilled the crowd with his wild-brawling style before leaving himself open for a third-round arm triangle by Jake Rosholt, who is from Sand Point, Idaho, just a six-hour drive from Portland.
"I had to block it out, man," said Rosholt of the Portland crowd. "Right from the beginning they started chanting, 'Leben, Leben.' They were real loud. I just had to block it out and stick to my game plan. Fortunately I at least was able to have some of my friends and family make the drive."
Bury the tape: Gabriel Gonzaga's first-round TKO victory over Chris Tuscherer isn't likely to find its way onto any of the UFC's "Best of" DVDs. Seconds into the fight, Gonzaga connected on an accidental low blow that would have impressed most NFL kickers with its accuracy and power. The debuting Tuscherer, who was cornered by UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, needed the full five minutes of recovery time. At one point, a bucket was brought into the cage for fear that Tuscherer was going to vomit.
While Tuscherer earns points for continuing, he then took a pounding from Gonzaga, including a wicked head kick, before referee Dave Hagen called it at 2:57. The nature of the victory makes it hard to judge either fighter's future. Gonzaga is 11-4 overall but is 3-3 in his past six fights, winning against lesser names and losing when he has stepped up in competition. The victory likely gives him another shot at a name foe.
Quoteworthy: "He found me in the back and he said, 'I want to fight again right away. I want to fight good guys. I want to be on the fast track.' He's fired up." – UFC president Dana White on unbeaten Todd Duffee, who set a UFC record for fastest knockout when he stopped Tim Hague in seven seconds.