Saturday, March 19, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
NEWARK,N.J. — UFC middleweight Dan Miller has exercised filtered enthusiasm all week leading up to his main card bout against Nate Marquardt at UFC 128.
UFC moved Miller from the first preliminary fight of the night, against Nick Catone, to a pay-per-view showdown with Marquardt, a perennial contender, less than a week ago. It’s a major promotion and a chance for Miller, a New Jersey native, to re-establish himself as a force in the 185-pound division tonight at the Prudential Center.
But the opportunity only came after Japanese fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama had to pull out of his scheduled bout with Marquadt because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck his home country a week ago.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Miller said. “My heart goes out to the Japanese people. It’s unfortunate. I’m just taking the chance UFC gave me and trying to make the most of it.”
Akiyama and his family are unharmed, according to UFC President Dana White. Akiyama resides in Osaka, which is about 500 miles south of the area most affected by the disaster.
But Akiyama still had trouble getting out of Japan and had to withdraw from the bout, which was billed as the third highest on the card.
“That’s what it’s all about,” White said. “Akiyama can’t make it out of Japan and Dan steps up and takes this big fight. It’s a huge opportunity, and I respect and appreciate him for stepping up.”
Marquardt shared the same feelings. Although Marquardt found out early on that Akiyama was safe, he had a bad feeling no replacement would be named in time and his fight would be scratched.
“I was concerned because he’s very famous over there,” Marquardt said. “So even if he was fine, I knew he would want to stay over there because of his family and help out.”
Marquardt received a call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva a couple days after the tragedy and braced for the worst. Turns out Silva had what Marquardt considered fantastic news.
“I was really excited when he told me Dan Miller was stepping up,” Marquardt said. “I’m just really glad I get to fight.”
Marquardt feels he has a lot to prove after dropping a unanimous decision to Yushin Okami at UFC 122 in a fight billed to establish the No. 1 middleweight contender. White spoke negatively about Marquardt after the fight and said he “choked”. A win over Akiyama, who is only 1-2 in UFC but has a decorated career in Japanese promotions, was supposed to get him back on track.
Although Miller is seen as a step down in competition, he is a veteran with a solid background in wresting and jiu-jitsu. Miller worked his way toward the top of his weight class two years ago before losing three straight fights to mainstays Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia and Michael Bisping.
He’s won two straight since and Marquardt insists Miller has his respect. Miller also has Marquardt’s appreciation.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the Japanese people,” Marquardt said. “I’m just really happy Dan stepped up so I could have a fight.”