Nate “Rock” Quarry did not take the traditional road to the octagon. Sports were not only discouraged during his upbringing, they were actually banned. To wrestle would have been sacrilegious and to fight would be unforgivable. Rising up from an oppressed childhood, Nate Quarry has made his peace and found a way to live a life that is completely his own. Nate is a testament to the fact that there are always sacrifices that have to be made to achieve your dream.
How did you transition from your sheltered childhood where sports were condemned, to a competing as a professional MMA fighter in the UFC?
“I grew up in an untraditional childhood setting as a Jehovah’s Witness. It felt like a cult. We were told that Armageddon is coming at any moment. We had no time for things like job training, education and especially not sports. Why do wrestling, play baseball or soccer when you’re being told the end of the world is near?
If I told my parents that I really wanted to wrestle I would have been a complete disgrace and an embarrassment to the organization and to God. What you are born into is what you become. Being raised that way, that was my life. I accepted it for a long time because it was all I knew.”
When did you decide that you didn’t want to live the life your parents wanted for you?
“When I got older, in my early 20’s I was so unhappy. I looked at my life and didn’t like what I was seeing. When I was 24 years old I was at a party and on the TV there were two fighters in a cage beating the crap out of each other. It was Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. I was enthralled. I was so sucked into that, and it wasn’t anything to do with their skill or performance. It was the sportsmanship at the end. They would shake hands, hug and congratulate each other on a good fight. To me, a slap to the face of a child from a parent is so much more violent than striking a grown man with an elbow.”
Nate Quarry actually attempted to start his martial arts journey several years prior to discovering MMA. At 19-years-old Quarry started taking lessons at a Kung Fu school, which he quickly learned was not accepted by the Jehovah’s Witness religion. He was “disfellowshipped” (excommunicated) and disowned by his entire family.
“Seeing how miserable I was, I realized that I would rather enjoy this life now than continue doing what I was doing. If Armageddon comes while I’m in the gym training MMA so be it. I’ll be doing something I love.”
It is one thing to train in MMA and it is another to make it your livelihood. How did you make that leap?
“It’s almost on a daily basis that I ask myself, ‘how did I get here?’ There was one life-transforming moment. After training for a while, I found myself at 30 years old and working in construction. As a Jehovah, construction is one of your only career options because you have no education or training. I was working at an electric sign shop. We installed those big lighted signs like the ones you see at gas stations. I was the shop foreman and head installer.
In April of 2002, I showed up at work and I had been sick for a week. Something had gone wrong on a job one of my crews did and my boss wanted to a talk about it. My boss sounded just like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. He yelled at me and blamed me. I told him that talking to me like that didn’t motivate me, it made me want to pack up my stuff and go. So, I did. I called my head coach and told him that I am now a full-time fighter.”
That had to be a financially stressful time. How did you manage to stay afloat?
Professional MMA fighting is not the same as being a professional football or baseball player. Wages are vastly different and countless “pros” may find themselves earning a mere $200 to $500 to compete, which is certainly not enough to live off of.
“If I couldn’t make as a fighter in three months, I wanted to know, at the very least that I took my shot.”
At the time, he quit his construction job, Nate Quarry had only 3,000 dollars in his savings, a two-year-old daughter and a mortgage. He figured out ways to make sacrifices and live off 1,000 dollars a month for three months. When you want something bad enough you make it work.
“That same year my parents called and said my father had been diagnosed with a disease where his body was not producing blood cells. I went and stayed with them and helped prepare for his passing. He got to the point where he would stand up and then pass out. I would wake up at two in the morning to my mother screaming because my father had fallen in the bathroom and passed out. When I first got there, I went with him to pick up his final paycheck. He was a carpenter and he died at 62. That’s when I decided I was going to do whatever it takes to look back at my life and have no regrets.”
How hard was it trying to raise a baby girl and build your career simultaneously?
“I was a single father. I had a daughter at 28. We tried to make it work but it didn’t. It was pretty obvious what I needed to do, especially when I came down to guest host on G4 (G4 TV – Attack of the Show). There were a lot of opportunities I could have pursued in California. But I had my daughter to think about.
I would pick her up on Friday after practice and take her back to school on Monday morning. That was an hour and a half away. Every time I had an opportunity to do something I would think, ‘On my deathbed how would this play out? Would she be there and know I had been there for her?’
After a while, she was living with me and going to her mother’s on the weekend. That was hard with training. As a fighter, every move you make is selfish. You need your training, you need your rest, you need to eat certain things. I remember one time I was so tired, I laid down and was out immediately in one of those really deep sleeps. About 10 minutes in, I hear my daughter say ‘Daddy, I’m hungry’.”
You have a long history and are a legend in the sport. Would you change anything about your career?
“I think the answer is yes. I think anyone who is asked that would say yes and I am no exception. There was one point, even in the UFC where I was literally fighting for food money. I wanted to make sure my daughter didn’t have a life like mine. I see my family legacy starting with me. I’m happy where I am today.”
Nate Quarry has more to tell about his legal contention with the way MMA fighters are treated, the physical hardships of fighting and his thought on cannabis use. Read more in our next segment with retired UFC fighter Nate Quarry.