“I didn’t even know it was on ABC, I didn’t even know it was in the morning,” he laughs. “I took the fight because I said that I wanted to fight. I’m here as a fighter. I spent 31 months out of the Octagon, I need to get in there, I need to get as many fights as possible, and this was just a great matchup for me. And honestly, it’s gonna be the best shine for me.”

Ah, the 31 months away. That adds even more to the story, knowing that Marquez’ win over Pitolo came after nearly three years on the sidelines recovering from completely tearing his latissimus dorsi muscle in a 2018 bout against Alessio Di Chirico. Then there was the fight itself, where he was down 20-18 on all three scorecards heading into the final round. He needed a finish, coach James Krause knew it, and he let Marquez know it, too.

“For 31 months there was this animal that was inside of me that was dormant, and I didn’t know how to bring it out,” said Marquez. “I didn’t know where it was at and it’s hard to find that. And I’ve been with James in some tough battles in the earlier part of my career, so James knew what to say and how to bring it out of me. And something clicked in that third round, and he brought it out. He said, ‘Finish it, or it doesn’t f**king count.’ And that moment made me realize if I lose this fight, all the hardships, all the pain, all the hours of physical therapy, all of the highs and lows that I went through during the past 31 months, all the weight loss, everything will get lost and no one would care. And at that moment, he spoke to whatever animal instinct I have inside of me and brought it out. I realized at that moment I’m going for it all. It’s either I’m getting knocked out or I’m knocking him out. And he’s either got to keep the pace or he’s gonna break, and he couldn’t keep the pace, and I broke him.”

View Marquez’s Athlete Profile

At 4:17 of the third round, Marquez won the fight, turning from slugger to grappling wizard to sink in the anaconda choke that ended matters in Las Vegas. It was no Hail Mary; it was almost like Marquez and Krause drew it up that way.

“If you look at the finish in my last fight, James started that move, teaching me that same exact sequence,” he said. “For literally four months I drilled that over and over again, and if you watch when I hit that, I trust the process and I got the job done with a sequence that looked smooth. I looked like a black belt hitting that move. Nobody saw it coming.”

Pitolo certainly didn’t, and that’s all that mattered. Marquez was back, he got the most important win of his career, and the internet loved it. It was almost enough to make him forget all the dark days it took to get there, but he never will.