by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
After 22 months, multiple surgeries and one team change, popular Ultimate Fighter Season One fighter Nate “Rock” Quarry made his much anticipated return to mixed martial arts at last month’s UFC Fight Night 12 in Las Vegas.

It wasn’t enough that Nate was able to return to fighting after facing a potentially career ending back problem, but he wanted to do more than just show up and fight well. He wanted – needed a win – and he got one, knocking out a determined Pete “Drago” Sell 44-seconds into the third round of their rematch from August of 2005.

After having some time to recover from the fight, Quarry spoke to MMAWeekly to discuss his return match, his time away from the sport, and what lays ahead for his continuously brightening future.

MMAWeekly: First off, Nate, tell us your thoughts on your win over Pete Sell at UFC Fight Night 12 last month.

Nate Quarry: I think it was just a great fight to be a part of and I was so grateful to get the win. I knew that Pete was going to be a very tough fight, he took the fight very seriously, and he was the hungriest fighter I’ve ever fought. I knew going into this, that this was just going to be a war, and so I just tried to mentally prepare myself for that as much as possible and weather through the storm.

MMAWeekly: What was it like stepping back into the Octagon after such a long layoff?

Nate Quarry: It felt great. It’s nothing that I’m not used to, coming off a long layoff and then getting right into the spotlight of things. So, for me, it was just a great opportunity. I want to be on the main card of the show, wanted to have a very tough fight to let the fans know that I was back, and show appreciation for all the fans that continued to believe in me.

MMAWeekly: I understand the NuVasive procedure you had done for your back surgery actually allowed you to return quicker and healthier than the surgery that’s typically been done in the past.

Nate Quarry: It used to be – and it is still even the case with some surgeons – that if you need back surgery, they’re going to slice right through your abdominal (muscles), go in between your intestines and stomach to get to your back. But with NuVasive, they cut a very small one-inch incision on your side and use their tools to get up to the back. They’re able to clean out the discs and put in a new spacer disc and close everything up. So instead of being filled like a fish, it’s really a minimally invasive surgery and that was really one of the key components into getting me back into action so quickly.

MMAWeekly: Was there any kind of apprehension or even fear, perhaps, when it was finally time for you to take that first hit in training?

Nate Quarry: Well, I think with anything this major, people are going to wonder, “How is my performance going to be?” So I was sparring with Josh Haynes and he shot in for a takedown, lifted me above his head and slammed me down, burying his shoulder right at the area I had gotten my surgery. It was a moment that seemed to last for years, when I was just so scared, I was thinking, “Oh my god, what did he do? How am I going to react to this? Am I going to be able to walk again?” and I just popped right back up. It was like nothing.

It didn’t even matter that he picked me up and slammed me. In fact, later on in that same round I picked him up and slammed him in return. So I knew, from that day on, that it doesn’t matter how hard somebody slams me, I’m going to be fine, and I can pick them up and slam them in return. That was just a huge confidence builder.

MMAWeekly: Prior to your match with Pete Sell there was a lot of buzz surrounding your split with Team Quest. Would you care to comment on that situation?

Nate Quarry: I had a lot of time off after my fight with (Rich) Franklin (at UFC 56 in November of 2005), due to my surgery and things like that, so I was really able to kind of analyze where I wanted to go with my career, and what was the best way to be served in my career. So, after sitting there, watching team practices, and seeing the direction that management was taking everyone, I had some legitimate concerns.

I actually wrote them down, and had a meeting with Matt (Lindland) and Robert (Follis). I said, “I’m concerned about all these things,” and that’s when I was basically told, “That’s the way it is, take it or leave it.” So for the betterment of myself and my future, I needed to go elsewhere.

MMAWeekly: I’m sure that your teammates supported your decision when you let your concerns be known.

Nate Quarry: Definitely, and I still maintain communication with Eddie Herman, Chris Wilson, Mike Dolce and those guys, and I was so happy to have them help me get ready for the fight. I’m very appreciative of them, that they can think for themselves and say, “Hey, what he did was best for him and his family and I’m going to support that.” So I’m grateful to have friends like that.

MMAWeekly: Now that you’ve come back and gotten a win, what’s next for you?

Nate Quarry: You know, this fight was just such a learning experience for me. It’s been the first fight for me that I’ve had go into the third round in over four years, so for me, I’ve finally got some tape that I can look at and now I can visually see what mistakes I’m making, what I need to work on.

Now it’s a matter of sitting down with my coaches and developing a new game plan. Now they can see how I react under pressure, what things do I well, what things I need to work on … what I need to do to become a true force again in the middleweight division and work my way up the ranks. And then sit back and look and see what’s best for me, what the UFC wants and then let’s meet in the middle.

MMAWeekly: Sounds good Nate. Is there anything you’d like to say as we close out?

Nate Quarry: I want to thank NuVasive. Not only have they supported me in my fight, they supported me in my life and they’re a life-changing company. So please go to NuVasive’s website (NuVasive.com) or my website, NathanQuarry.com, and check that out, click on the links and see the other companies that have supported me through the very tight times.

Companies like Yok’d Clothing – who stepped up even before my surgery and believed in me and that I’d be back and invested in my future. Sprawl Shorts has been there for me, Zebra (Cage) Mats, Oakley Sunglasses, MMA Warehouse, so many companies that believe in me and I believe in them. So I’d like to thank all of them and please encourage people to support those sponsors who are supporting the fighters, whether it’s me or someone else.

And to all the fans, I’d like to say thank you so much for being there. I hope I put on a good show and that everybody was excited and that you can look for more of the same (from me in the future).