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The Ultimate Comeback

Ultimate fighter Nate Quarry fights his way back from a degenerative disc condition that required extensive spinal fusion surgery
by: Vern Uyetake, Nate Quarry started his career as a mixed martial artist with virtually no previous experience and ended up fighting for the Middleweight belt in 2005.

Nate Quarry, covered in sweat, looks in the mirror at West Linn's Premier Martial Arts studio on Salamo Road and checks on the noticeable lump developing above his right eye. There is also a large bruise just below his ribs on the left side of his body.

Ten feet away, Greg Thompson sits on the floor in the facility's unique cage, looking for his toenail which had been ripped away a few minutes previously.

It is just a sparring session for the two mixed martial arts competitors. Quarry's manager, West Linn resident Katie Clark, estimates that the pair are probably only competing at about 60 percent of their capable speed.

Still, blistering kicks delivered by padded legs echo in the small room, Thompson is tossed against the cage before the pair tumble to the ground, grappling for position.

When a timer rings in the corner, the pair release each other and crouch off to the side of the cage, analyzing and discussing various moves that occurred during the pervious round.

'I liked this a lot better when he was out of shape,' Thompson jokes about Quarry.

Quarry, a professional mixed martial artist, competing on the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has already been through a career's worth of emotions and experiences. The 35-year-old saw his first UFC fight at the age of 24 and was instantly hooked.

'I was so amazed at what these guys were doing. I wanted to see what it was all about. I'm living testimony that someone can walk through the door and end up being successful,' Quarry said.

Quarry joined a gym and started to train. After taking his lumps initially, he became more and more skilled at all of the sport's different avenues. As the name suggests, mixed martial arts combines the skills of multiple fighting techniques, including boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo and kickboxing.

'Everything that is in the Olympics is allowed but it's all combined into one sport,' Quarry said.

With intense training, Quarry became ready for competition. The North Salem High School graduate had never participated in athletics previously but thrived in this capacity.

At a fight in Richmond, Va., Quarry dispatched an opponent while a casting director for Spike TV was in attendance. The director approached Quarry after the match and offered him an audition for an upcoming reality show.

Quarry won a spot on the show that saw 16 fighters living together in the same house, competing for a UFC contract.

'They locked us in and taped everything. It was kind of like boot camp. I really appreciated the experience once I was done but I wouldn't want to go back,' Quarry said.

Early in the competition, Quarry broke his ankle during a practice but he recovered in time to fight on the undercard of the show's climactic episode.

The show was wildly popular and it gave Quarry instant exposure. After its taping was concluded, he quickly rose through the ranks on the UFC, becoming a top Middleweight fighter.

In November of 2005, Quarry earned the right to compete for the Middleweight Championship but he suffered a difficult loss in the title match.

To make matters worse, Quarry was then diagnosed with a degenerative disc condition in his back. The injury was severe enough that it threatened Quarry's career. He went through an extensive spinal fusion surgery but never let the possibility of giving up fighting enter his mind.

Within three months, Quarry was cleared to start training in a limited capacity again and, within six months, he was able to start getting himself into shape for competition once again.

Now, Quarry is back training 10 times in a five-day period. He has multiple sparring partners with varying strengths that help him prepare for upcoming competitions. He also works daily on conditioning.

'I think, in a lot of ways, I'm ahead of where I was at before I had surgery. It was a brutal recovery time but the pain is completely gone now,' Quarry said.

Quarry is gearing up for his comeback fight, his first competition since his surgery and he hopes that it will take place this August.

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and Portland is one of the nation's hotbeds for fighters. Quarry became interested in Premier Martial Arts even before it officially opened last January.

The facility offers a half-sized cage which simulates competition conditions.

'It's like the difference between going to the batting cages and hitting at PGE Park,' Quarry said.

Premier Trainer and manager Scott Sheeran is an amateur fighter and currently teaches a number of classes at the Salamo location.

'Our emphasis is on safety. The whole curriculum is geared towards people who have never been in a fight before. I think a lot of people are intimidated by it, but our emphasis is on control,' Sheeran said.

Premier Martial Arts offers a number of different classes and is about to start a women's self-defense course.

From the outside, the sport looks extremely dangerous with an enormous potential for injury but Quarry points out that far fewer long-term injuries arise in mixed martial arts than occur in boxing.

'There is the cumulative effect that happens in boxing with multiple blows to the head. There is the opportunity for all of those shots to add up,' Quarry said.

The competitions themselves last three rounds (five rounds for title bouts). Virtually anything goes in the matches. Groin shots and blows to the back of the head and neck are banned. Competitors also wear very little protective gear. The gloves worn are much smaller and less padded than boxing gloves.

A crucial aspect of the fights is what is called a submission hold in which a competitor gets his opponent into a position which would force him to tap out before an injury is incurred.

'If you take someone down, you can try and get them to tap out or choke out, where you cut off the flow of blood to the brain, causing them to pass out, but even with that, there is no lasting damage,' Quarry said.

Sportsmanship is key in the UFC as all of the competitors have a tremendous amount of respect for each other.

'It's such a pure sport and I have made a number of lasting friendships,' Quarry said.