One of the classiest gentlemen in the sport of mixed martial arts today, Tarec Saffiedine has never been someone seeking the spotlight all for himself. Case in point, ask him the highlight of his Strikeforce career and he’ll talk about his July 2011 win over Scott Smith because it was the same night his teammate Dan Henderson beat Fedor Emelianenko.
But this Saturday night in Oklahoma City, the Brussels native will be on center stage, not just fighting Nate Marquardt for the Strikeforce welterweight title, but fighting in the last ever bout for the organization. You can’t get more spotlight than that.
“It’s kind of exciting and sad at the same time because I was fighting for Strikeforce for the past three years now and I grew up with this organization and was happy with them,” said the 26-year-old, who now makes his home in southern California. “My goal was to fight for the belt at some point so I was really excited and happy to fight for it finally, but then when I heard it was the last show, I was like ‘aw, man, it’s sad.’ But I’m happy to fight Nate for the belt, and it will all be worth it on the 12th.”
It is a bittersweet moment for Saffiedine, whose seven fight run in Strikeforce ends with the biggest fight of his career. If he wins, he’s in the record books as the promotion’s last welterweight champion, and even though he won’t get to defend his belt, that “last ever” champion thing worked out well for WEC vets such as Carlos Condit, Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, and Dominick Cruz, all of whom parlayed their success into UFC contracts and even more success. So Saffiedine knows that what’s at stake is more than just a belt.
“Even though people might say it’s the last Strikeforce and the belt won’t mean as much as it would if it would have lasted, I don’t really believe that,” he said. “I believe the belt will still have its value, maybe going into the UFC after that, so I’m really excited to fight for it and I’m really focused on the 12th. There’s nothing sure for me as far as I know about what might come after, so I’m fully focused on what’s coming up. And whatever comes after, comes after. For a long time, my goal was to fight for Strikeforce. Then when I came to Strikeforce I wanted to be the champion, and I didn’t have any goal after that, so I’m really focused on this and then we’ll see.”
If Saffiedine has shown one thing above all else during his time in the Strikeforce cage, it’s focus. Starting out on the Challengers cards, Saffiedine lost only one of three bouts, beating James Terry and Nate Moore before dropping a decision to Tyron Woodley. By mid-2011 he fought his way to the main Strikeforce shows, and after defeating Smith and Tyler Stinson, he was pitted with Roger Bowling last August, with the possibility of a title shot in the air should he win. He didn’t let that possibility weigh him down though, as he pounded out a three round decision win.
“I’m always putting pressure on myself because I hate to lose,” he said. “I love to win, and with the Roger Bowling fight I wasn’t really sure if I won that I would get the title shot one hundred percent. So I came to the fight relaxed, well-prepared, and looking for the W. I would ask for the title shot and if Strikeforce was interested in putting me in that would be nice, but I was really focused on Roger at that time.”
That course of action worked, as he won the fight and got the title shot. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in Marquardt, he’s facing a vastly more experienced foe who looked rejuvenated and more dangerous than ever in his title-winning effort over Woodley last July.
“He looked really good,” said Saffiedine of Marquardt. “He didn’t seem really affected by the weight cut. He was always in good shape at middleweight and he also looked in good shape at welterweight. Woodley kind of gassed in the third round and I think that put Nate in confidence mode, but he looked pretty good.”
It’s an intriguing matchup of styles, considering that both fighters are able to handle themselves wherever the fight may go. But what may decide it is Marquardt’s ability or inability to implement his greater experience level on his challenger, and Saffiedine’s ability to go five hard rounds for the first time in his career. Working with the Team Quest standouts in Temecula, along with various other training partners in Los Angeles and San Diego has Saffiedine confident that five rounds will be no problem.
“I’m training really hard for five rounds as far as conditioning and I’m pushing pretty hard with my team in practice,” he said. “And I’m ready mentally. I put all the work into my camp, I had a long camp, and I’m ready for this fight.”
As ready as he’s going to be for a fight he’s waited years to get.
“It’s basically what I came to the US for,” said Saffiedine. “I came to the US to fight in the big leagues and fight the big names, and I’m not really looking for the lifestyle of a superstar, but I’m looking to fight one day in the UFC, and if that’s what’s coming, I’ll be more than happy to welcome that type of lifestyle.”
But one more thing…we didn’t finish the Strikeforce highlight question. I asked Saffiedine what his most memorable moment during his time in Strikeforce was, or was it yet to come. He spoke of the night when he and Hendo scored their big wins in the summer of 2011, but then added “It might be yet to come. The highlight would be winning the belt and ending up in a great fashion.”
Now that would be a highlight to remember.