Nate Marquardt’s leg has seen better nights. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Tarec Saffiedine entered the cage as a 3-to-1 underdog and made Nate Marquardt’s left leg pay for the lack of respect.
Saffiedine assaulted the former King of Pancrase with a stream of kicks to his lower extremity, as he cruised to a unanimous decision and captured the Strikeforce welterweight championship in the Strikeforce “Marquardt vs. Saffiedine” main event on Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. The 26-year-old Belgian swept the scorecards with 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46 marks, thus graduating from fringe Top 10 talent to person of serious interest at 170 pounds.
Marquardt was the favorite, but it became clear inside the first five minutes that he had the inferior approach. Saffiedine sat him down with a short right hand in the first round, denied his advances in the clinch and then targeted his leg with commitment and intent. Marquardt failed to check the kicks and balance the scales, as the fight -- and his championship -- slowly slipped from his grasp.
The five-round victory, easily the most significant of his career, launches Saffiedine into the Ultimate Fighting Championship as part of the forthcoming Strikeforce merger with far greater momentum. The Team Quest export has won 12 of his past 14 bouts, with his lone setbacks coming courtesy of Tyron Woodley, an athletic wrestler, and Dong Sik Yoon, a crafty judo player. Those two men pushed around Saffiedine in close quarters -- a weakness for which he must account if he wants to move further up the welterweight ladder.
The UFC could easily provide him with such an opportunity. Mike Pierce, another borderline Top 10 fighter, would offer Saffiedine a stern test upon his arrival in the UFC. The 32-year-old Pierce has compiled an 8-3 mark inside the Octagon, losing only to Jon Fitch, Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck, all by decision. Like Saffiedine, he has never been finished as a professional.
In the wake of Strikeforce “Marquardt vs. Saffiedine,” here are six other matchups that ought to be made:
Daniel Cormier vs. Frank Mir: They were slated to face one another in November before a knee injury sidelined Mir and forced him to withdraw. Cormier still wants the fight for obvious reasons, and there appears to be nothing standing in the UFC’s way of booking it, provided both parties are healthy.
Josh Barnett vs. Roy Nelson: Few men can cut promos like Barnett, who also happens to be one of the sport’s premier heavyweights. No Strikeforce fighter has more uncertainty surrounding him than the 35-year-old Seattle native, who has not competed in the UFC since a failed drug test led to his being stripped of the heavyweight championship in 2002.
Considering the shortage of quality big men in MMA, one has to believe Zuffa brass will give Barnett another look. Nelson has delivered back-to-back first-round knockouts against Dave Herman and Matt Mitrione, putting him in position to seek out more meaningful bouts.
Ronaldo Souza vs. Yushin Okami-Hector Lombard winner: With all due respect to Cormier, Saffiedine, Gilbert Melendez and Luke Rockhold, “Jacare” might be the most intriguing fighter set to cross the Strikeforce bridge into the UFC. A decorated submission grappler, Souza’s become more and more dangerous in the standup department, and he put all of his skills on display in dispatching “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 finalist Ed Herman with a first-round kimura. Okami and Lombard will meet in a pivotal middleweight matchup at UFC on Fuel TV 8 on March 3 in Japan.
Gegard Mousasi vs. Ryan Bader-Vladimir Matyushenko winner: The talented but enigmatic Mousasi took care of business against the American Kickboxing Academy’s Mike Kyle, submitting the Californian with a first-round rear-naked choke. His physical gifts are plenty, but Mousasi’s hiccups against Muhammed Lawal and Keith Jardine cannot be overlooked. Still only 27 and in the heart of his competitive prime, the former Strikeforce and Dream champion will enter the next phase of his career on the strength of three straight wins. The world-ranked Bader meets Matyushenko at UFC on Fox 6 later this month in Chicago.
Pat Healy vs. Jamie Varner: Healy deserves credit for keeping his cool after an injury to Melendez cost him a shot at the Strikeforce lightweight championship and relegated him to the undercard at the promotion’s 63rd and final event. The likable 29-year-old journeyman-turned-contender utilized his wealth of experience in earning a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten newcomer Kurt Holobaugh. It was Healy’s sixth straight victory and sends him into his second UFC tour with confidence to burn. Varner has enjoyed nothing short of a rebirth since returning to the Octagon in May, besting Edson Barboza and Melvin Guillard while engaging Joe Lauzon in a “Fight of the Year” contender.