With 10 seconds remaining in his fight against Kalib Starnes, Nate Quarry was at his wit’s end trying to force his opponent to exchange punches.
In what is largely remembered as one of the most bizarre fights in UFC history, the Ultimate Fighter 1 cast member resorted to dancing and an unleashing a strange move he later called ‘the rock hammer’ during their meeting at UFC 83 in 2008. It was one of many desperate attempts to engage with Starnes, who spent the better part of 15 minutes backpedaling, essentially running away from a fight.
Over 15 minutes in the octagon, Starnes landed just 12 strikes and came up short on a single takedown attempt. Boos resounded through the rafters at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec. Two days later, Starnes was released from his UFC contract. He never again set foot inside the octagon.
For Quarry, the fight certainly didn’t go the way he wanted. But there was one silver lining. He’d complete a mission he’d set: to end Starnes’ UFC career.
To understand why Quarry decided on that goal, you have to go back to 2005, when he took on Pete Sell in the first-ever UFC Fight Night card from Las Vegas.
“If you remember that fight, Nate Marquardt and Ivan Salaverry were the main event,” Quarry told MMA Fighting. “I fought Pete, and the fight lasted 45 seconds, but he landed a really quick jab on me, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, is this going to be the guy that’s better than me and beats me?’
“I threw a straight right and a straight left. The straight left connected right on his jaw. He dropped, and I jumped on him, threw a big right hand, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and Cecil Peoples dry-humped me – jumped on top of me [and] sandwiched me on top of Pete.
“Well, it was a flash knockdown. I hadn’t knocked him out by any means.”
Controversy ensued, but Quarry still got the win. While the ending wasn’t what he wanted, he got a title fight against then-middleweight champ Rich Franklin, who five months earlier had taken the title from Evan Tanner.
That ending really wasn’t what Quarry wanted. He wound up on the wrong end of a brutal first-round knockout. Afterward, he was forced to undergo spinal fusion back surgery, a procedure that probably should have ended his career right there. As he healed, ongoing personnel issues prompted him to leave his longtime training home, Team Quest in Oregon. Then he got into a custody battle with the mother of his daughter.
“All this is happening as I’m healing from this surgery, and nobody thought it was even possible [that I’d fight again],” he said.
Miraculously, Quarry did recover. Almost two years after his loss to Franklin, he called the UFC looking for another fight.
“I call up [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and I go, ‘Joe, nobody thought I could do it,’” Quarry said. “‘I’m back, I’m ready to take a fight, and I want to fight Kalib Starnes. Kalib had just beaten (my former teammate) Chris Leben, and I thought it was a bullsh*t decision, so I thought this would be good. I could get vengeance for Leben.
“So that’s the fight I wanted. Joe Silva says, ‘Cool, I’ll give him a call.’ Joe Silva calls me back and [says] ‘Kalib won’t take the fight, he says you’re not worthy to fight him because you lost your last fight and he won his. So we want you to rematch Pete Sell.’ I’m like, “Goddamn, OK.”
The snub enraged Quarry. But it also gave him a new sense of purpose, beyond a comeback from surgery that was supposed to retire him.
“It’s going to be a really hard fight, especially after two years off, but I’ll fight him,” Quarry told himself. “I’ll beat him, and when I do, I get to fight Kalib Starnes. And when I fight Kalib Starnes, I’m going to end his f*cking career.”
This time, there was no controversy with Sell. But the fight certainly tested Quarry, who went to war with the New Yorker for two rounds before earning a third-round knockout.
Afterward, Quarry had to take another break, this time for after a freak accident with a golf club left him with a broken orbital bone. A few months passed, and that’s when he got the call he desperately wanted.
“Joe Silva calls me up and says, ‘You still want Kalib? Well, now we’re going to make him fight you,’” Quarry remembers.
UFC 83 was the first time the promotion had gone to Montreal with a card headlined by Georges St-Pierre. After shocking upset at the hands of Matt Serra, the Canadian superstar was getting his shot at revenge on home turf.
Starnes, too, was a Canadian. Quarry figured he’d have a target on his back when he walked into the arena. He prepared for a cascade of boos, and maybe a Molson shower. He vowed to win over the crowd.
“Because I am the only real fighter in that cage,” he said. “Watching Kalib fight, watching his tapes, [he was] a bully. He was only successful when he could move forward on people. It gave him confidence. But as soon as you have him moving backward, he falls apart. It’s not good for his mentality.
“So that’s my game plan. I’m going to walk out, they’re going to boo me. He’s going to walk out, they’re going to cheer him. But as the fight goes along, I’m going to win over the entire crowd, and when I win the fight, I’m going to give the Rocky 4 speech.”
Just as Quarry predicted, he didn’t receive the warmest welcome from Canada. He still marched forward, and that simple game plan started to work.
“I just kept stalking him down,” he said. “I was moving forward the whole time. But that cage is gigantic. It’s really hard to corner someone who doesn’t want to be cornered. This isn’t a boxing ring with 90-degree corners. This octagon is huge.
“In the second round, I was like, is anybody else noticing this? He doesn’t want to fight. He’s running away from me the whole time, and I keep chasing him. After the second round, I believe that’s when I gave the thumbs down, because now the crowd is all booing. So I give the thumbs down, because this isn’t what I signed up to do. This is not the energy I want to put out there. I want to make the crowd happy.”
It only got worse in the third round. For every two steps Quarry took forward, Starnes seemingly took three steps back. No matter what he did, he couldn’t get Starnes to engage.
“Chasing, chasing, chasing, trying to corner him, trying to get after him,” Quarry remembers. “At one point, I started doing the running man, just to mock him, and he flips me off, which allows me grab him behind the head, throw a knee, keep moving.
“There was some rumor that he broke his foot before the fight, and that’s why he kept moving, but that’s ridiculous.”
With time ticking away in the final round, Quarry was running out of options, literally. That’s when he remembered his fight with Sell from 2005, but more importantly, the main event of that fight card.
“We hit the 10-second bell, and this is where I kind of reflected back to that main event with Ivan Salaverry and Nate Marquardt,” he said. “Worst fight ever. Ivan Salaverry just didn’t show up that night. He was running away from Nate Marquardt, the same as my fight with Kalib Starnes. Marquardt gets angry and the crowd gets angry. Everyone is angry. Ivan is disappointed with himself. I thought to myself in that moment, I don’t want the crowd to leave angry.
“You came to the UFC to see a great fight. You want to see the best fighters in the world. You want to see a show. I couldn’t give that to them that night. I did the best I could, but I can’t. There’s something else when you want to come to these shows. You want memories. You want something you’ll never forget. That, I think I can give you.
“So that 10-second bell went off, and I did my rock hammer and I just walked directly at Kalib. I just wanted to give the fans something to remember, and if Kalib wanted to throw anything, I’m not defending. Whatever you want. I’m a punching bag – do your thing. And he just keeps moving away.”
Even if he didn’t get to put Starnes away, Quarry definitely made an impression. And what happened next brought his vendetta full circle.
“Joe Silva comes in, and my head corner Greg Thompson starts yelling at Joe, ‘What the f*ck is that guy doing fighting in the UFC? He shouldn’t be fighting here!’” Quarry remembers. “Joe looks at him and says, ‘He’ll never fight for us again. He’s done.’
“That was the game plan the whole time. To end his career.”
Quarry still followed through on his initial promise to give the fans in Montreal something else to remember. On the post-fight mic, he went full “Rocky Balboa.”
“It just worked out so perfectly,” Quarry said.
Twelve years removed from that night, Quarry holds no ill will toward Starnes, though they never spoke again.
“I read some of his interviews he gave after the fight, and I wasn’t appreciative of what he said about me before the fight,” he said. “Saying I wasn’t worthy to fight him, that’s what sparked my ego and my desire to prove myself to him. I’m one those guys if you think you’re better than me, let’s go find out.
“After the fight, I never said a bad word about him, because people don’t understand how stressful this is. From my perspective, fighting is one of the most personal things you can do to show who you are. Because who you are as a man, as a woman, is on display for the world to see.”
Quarry remembers how the final fight of his UFC career went. Against Jorge Rivera at a UFC Fight Event in Charlotte, N.C., he decided to go out on his shield despite every instinct telling him to quit.
“Some people, we just deal with these things differently,” he said. “I wanted find out what kind of man I was. I didn’t find that out until maybe my fifth or six fight, just a brutal war with Mike Whitehead. But then [on] my 22nd fight against Jorge Rivera, I got that opportunity [again] to show what kind of man I was inside. Because Jorge shattered the whole left side of my face in the first round, and I knew it.
“My nose is broken. My septum is broken. My cheekbone is broken. I could literally move my cheekbone around my face because it was separated. This little voice inside my head said, ‘You should quit, you have taken such a beating, no one will think less of you, they’ll understand when they see the X-rays to see how much damage you’ve taken. They’ll understand.’ Then a big booming voice came into my head, ‘If you quit on your f*cking stool, you will be a coward until the day you die. You’re going to get up. You’re going to fight. That’s what you do and one of two things is going to happen. Either you’re going to knock him out, or he’s going to knock you out, so get up off your ass and go do your f*cking job.’”
The fight ended 29 seconds later, but Quarry has no regrets about getting knocked out, because the alternative was far worse.
“I knew if I quit on my stool, if I ended a fight by saying I’m too injured to continue, I’d know that Jorge broke my heart,” he said. “He truly beat me on the inside. But the damage was already done. They’d be able to fix me. They’ll put me back together. But if I quit, if he breaks my heart, if I give up, then he’ll truly be the first man to beat me. That I could never live with.
“So I took my beating, they put me back together, and after 22 fights, I can sit here and say yeah, I’ve got four losses, but no one ever broke me. No one ever made me stop because I couldn’t hang any longer.”