Julian Marquez knew he had found a new gym as he waited to make his first start in over two years at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas last November.
But when his opponent, Saparbeg Safarov, was pulled from the bout due to issues with this weight cut the day before fight night, Marquez discovered that he also had a new home with the Glory MMA squad in Kansas City.
“After my fight was called off, all my teammates contacted me via social media or text message, and they were telling me to keep my head up,” he said. “Everybody was waiting for it, everybody was in on it. And that support system is what you need, and that's exactly what I got.”
It was something Marquez wasn’t getting in Las Vegas, his longtime training home, especially not as he was kept from training for 28 months due to the recovery from a tear of his latissimus dorsi muscle in his July 2018 bout with Alessio Di Chirico.
“The world forgets about you. The fans only care for what's in front of their face and they only see what's in front of their face, and we get new fans every day,” he said. “Four years ago, I have a highlight reel knockout (against Phil Hawes) and then I have a spectacular debut (against Darren Stewart) and I have a controversial decision (against Di Chirico) with a lat tear, all against top prospects, but no one knows who I am because we've had almost 50,60, 70 events since then. And if you're not in the limelight, you're not noticed.”
In March of last year, Marquez, who was told by one doctor that he might not ever fight again, got the green light to resume training.
Right on time for the COVID-19 pandemic to hit.
“The pandemic was causing us to get in trouble when I was in Vegas going to practice,” he recalled. “We would get called on, people would knock on the windows and the police would come and shut us down, and it got to the point where I wasn't able to train. The last time we spoke (in March) I just got released to fight again, and the pandemic hit and I was trying to figure out a place to go.”
Marquez spent some time in Alabama, getting solid work in with two of the state’s finest.
“I went out to do camp with Eryk Anders and Walt Harris and Chris Connelly and I love their camp, I love their gym and everything, but it was too far from home,” he said. “And my little nephew was being born.”
It was time to go home to Kansas City. Luckily for him, one of the top gyms in the sport is right in KC, so Marquez made a call to head coach and fellow UFC fighter James Krause.
“I contacted him and they had some training classes going on - super small and safe - so I flew back to Kansas City and stuck with him,” said Marquez, who is more than happy to be back.
“It's a whole different world. I was isolated in Vegas. Now Vegas is amazing - there's a lot of great people out there, there's a lot of fun stuff; I got to find who I am, I got to introduce myself to a lot of new opportunities. But there's nothing like being at home, being around the people that you know that care for you, that show that they care for you every day. It's been a fresh awakening, and the support and encouragement system, I can feel it.”
The training’s not too bad either, but for the 30-year-old, it goes beyond the nuts and bolts of what he needs to do in an MMA fight.
“I came out here and I was 250-something pounds at the highest point,” said Marquez, who weighed in at 185 pounds on the nose for his Saturday bout against Maki Pitolo. “They're always building me up, always trying to help me out. They're showing that they belong in my life, in my corner and in my world - all of my teammates. From a 125er all the way up to our heaviest person at 230. Every single person - a coach, a new amateur - they're all in it, they're all invested, and they all want you to succeed and they show that. Whether you're hurt or big or out of your element, they're there to pick you up and make sure you're in this. They have a winner's mentality, and it's infectious.”
Marquez will bring that mentality into his UFC 258 return, and while the storyline is his return for the first time since 2018, that’s something for everyone else to talk about.
“It's another fight,” he said. “Every fight's a new beginning. Every opponent is a new obstacle. Every situation is a brand-new opportunity. The way I look at this is I have a fight in front of me on February 13th and I'm going in there and I'm getting my hand raised, whether it's by knockout, submission or decision. I'm not here to please everybody; I'm here to dominate and go after what I want and what I believe in to be the best that I can ever be. Maki stands in the way and I have to take him down.”
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Can’t get more to the point than that, but “The Cuban Missile Crisis” will throw in one more line for good measure.
“I am back. Julian Marquez is back.”