Can the life as a UFC fighter really glorify God? We spoke to Nate Marquardt on how he sees his sporting career as a gift from God.
Growing up Nate, was fighting and UFC something you always wanted to get involved with?
“Yes, I mean, when I was a young kid I always loved wrestling, boxing and karate; stuff like that. However, I was never able to participate with anything like that growing up, I tended to play the more traditional sports: football, soccer and basketball. When I went to High School, it was then I watched my first two or three UFC fights on VHS and that’s when I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life. I found a local gym in town that taught ground fighting and karate, so I started training and that was it.”
Since making it as a professional fighter, you’ve been branded with the nickname, “Nate the Great” – where did that emerge from?
“Well it’s kind of more a funny nickname I guess. It was given to me as a kid. There was this small children’s book about a detective called ‘Nate the Great’ and so my parents started calling me it and it began from there. Actually, I remember at one of my first fights the announcer came up to me and asked what my nickname was, I told him I didn’t have one and then someone jokingly told him it was ‘Nate the Great’, so it’s stuck ever since.”
As a sportsperson, it must be important to have self-belief in your ability. Do you think you can become the best fighter in the world?
“Yes, definitely. I believe that God has given me the talent to be where I am today. I’ve been at the top for a very long time and I was in the top 10 fighters for over a decade. Recently, over the past 3 years I’ve had some tough fights and a slight dip in form but since coming back to my old trainer I think it’s fair to say that I’m coming back to my best. With the best coaches alongside me and God giving me the talents, I definitely can become one of the best fighters in the world.”
You say you believe God gave you the talents, so lets talk about your walk with Him. How did you become a follower of Jesus?
“Honestly, I really have only been a true Christian since 2013. What I mean by that is I was raised in a Christian family growing up, my Dad was a pastor but then my parents got a divorce when I was really young. I saw some horrible things and I basically rebelled, living for the world for most of my life. Then when I turned 23-years-old, I tried to turn away from all of that and live like a Christian and follow God. The issue there was that I wasn’t born again. I was still trying to do stuff my own way and in my own power, I was living a moralistic life but I wasn’t saved.
In 2013 I lost two fights in a row for the first time in my career, that was God showing me where my heart was and what the false idol was in my life. Once he knocked down my false idol, it was at that point that he changed my life and moulded my heart afresh.”
As a Christian, how do you feel that you can be a shinning light of Jesus whilst performing in a fighting environment?
“Well, this is where God has me in my life. I have my fifth kid on the way a the moment and for me, this is the way God has allowed me to provide for my family. Not only that, with this career, I have a decent sized circle of influence in which God can use me to help others see who he is and shine his light. Also because of the nature of this job, I have a fair amount of free-time to study the Bible, understand what it is saying to me and relay that message to others. I hold a Bible study on Thursday nights with some of the kids from our High School and I also preach on Sunday’s once every month at our youth group. My job does allow me to serve a lot and his provision over me means he has got me where he wants me to be in this season.”
Best fight you’ve ever been involved in?
“Probably back in 2012 when I fought Tyrone Woodley. It was a great fight especially for the fans. There were times when it was quite back and forth. We went four rounds and it had a pretty decent finish too, so I’d have to say that one.”
Do you have a moment in your career that stands out for you?
“I guess the Tyrone Woodley fight stands out as it was for the Strikeforce title. Aside from that, I think my first fight in the UFC has to be up there too as that was just a dream come true for me.”
How would you say that you deal with the pressures that UFC fighting offers as both an athlete and a Christian?
“Yeah, I think it’s a lot easier now because before my identity was wrapped up in being a UFC fighter so I found it hard to deal with the problems in the fighting world. Whereas now, my identity is in Christ, win or lose I have joy. I know God has a plan, he is going to use me for his kingdom. That doesn’t detract from my will to work hard, but it does mean that whether I lose, it doesn’t matter to me as much as I know there is a bigger purpose in this life.”
You’re very open about your faith, do you think other Christian athletes should be as open about their faith?
“I was reading John 15 the other day and it talks about being a true Christian. The passage tells us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and that we can only produce fruit if we are abiding in him. If we aren’t producing fruit, then our branch will be cast into the fire. Essentially, if we are saved, we will produce fruit, whereas someone who has they are a Christian but is not producing fruit, they are not a true believer. If you truly love God, then people will notice something different about your life; you will act differently, say different things as you radiate Jesus. One thing I will say to athletes and all people of faith is that, I challenge you to take a look at your life. If you say you’re a Christian, but aren’t producing fruit or living for God’s love, then maybe you need to take a closer look at your relationship with Him.”