The final Strikeforce event in history took place in Oklahoma City on Saturday night. As most oddsmakers and fans expected, the main card chugged along with a series of four fast finishes by the bout favorites. Yet MMA relies on the unexpected, and the main event delivered as a 170-pound Strikeforce Challengers graduate used strategy and precision to neutralize the strength of a former UFC middleweight contender, wresting away the welterweight title.
Nate Marquardt vs. Tarec Saffiedine
Belgian striker Tarec Saffiedine's patience and leg kicks wore down former middleweight Nate Marquardt and allowed to Saffiedine to nab the 170-pound championship belt over five well-paced rounds. The fight may have lasted longer than the rest of the main card put together, but Saffiedine’s victory was as jaw-dropping as any finish in its underdog nature and tactical rarity.
Saffiedine opened the bout with a cracking leg kick, and while those are usually part and parcel of any MMA exchange, this one turned out to be a harbinger of the rounds to come. Incoming champion Marquardt looked strong and fast out of the gate, stutter-stepping and shuffling in the middle of the cage as Saffiedine circled. The two traded occasional shots in between clinches, and one short shot from Saffiedine dropped Marquardt mid-round.
Over the next rounds, Saffiedine used the clinch to avoid the majority of Marquardt’s takedown attempts, save one single-leg in the second. While the fans in attendance may not have loved the repeated tie-ups, they served Saffiedine well by keeping him on his feet and tiring the athletic Marquardt.
But it was Saffiedine’s targeted leg kicks that were the real story of the fight. In early rounds, they seemed perfunctory, but their accumulation was evident by the end of the second, when Marquardt’s left leg was visibly red. By the third, it was purple, and the bruising and swelling were obvious. Some of Saffiedine’s kicks drew a wince from Marquardt; others outright wobbled him; and the crowd reacted to each one thrown in the fourth and fifth.
The champion Marquardt remained game and came forward several times, trying in particular to wing uppercuts, but his injured leg clearly hampered the amount of power he could throw. Saffiedine easily avoided any power shots, sometimes seeming content to eat a punch in order to land yet another kick. Saffiedine had also chopped away Marquardt’s ability to shoot in for takedowns, which neutralized a key aspect of his MMA game.
In round five, with Marquardt’s face also bloodied from Saffiedine’s strikes, Saffiedine closed the fight by scoring a takedown of his own in the final minute. Judges gave the bout unanimously to Saffiedine with scores of 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46. The win brought the 26-year-old champion's record to 14-4; Marquardt falls to 35-11-2.
Daniel Cormier vs. Dion Staring
Dutchman Dion Staring came in as a massive underdog to Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier, and while he didn’t offer much resistance to “DC,” he impressed many simply by lasting nine minutes.
Staring began with his left hand extended, his right hand low at his side. After a couple of kicks from Cormier and a tie-up, Cormier got his first of three huge takedowns in the round. Cormier did damage with elbows from side control and fists from mount, plus a combination that hurt Staring on the feet, but the game if game-planless Staring survived the round.
The two traded knees at the beginning of the second, but another takedown spelled the beginning of the end as the fatiguing Staring could no longer fight his way back to the feet. Cormier landed huge elbows and hammerfists from half guard and more punches from mount before Staring turtle up. As Staring tried to twist away in every direction, Cormier was relentless in his ground-and-pound, and ultimately the referee stopped things at 4:02 of the second round.
Cormier remains undefeated at 8-0, and called out UFC heavyweight Frank Mir – whom he was scheduled to fight last fall -- for his next bout in his post-fight in-cage interview. "So happy to come out here and have the opportunity to compete in front of hometown fans,” said the Oklahoma State alum. Staring slips to 28-8.
Watch Cormier's post-fight interview
Josh Barnett vs. Nandor Guelmino
“The Warmaster” Josh Barnett made it three first-round submissions in a row on the main card as he spoiled Austrian Nandor Guelmino’s Strikeforce debut, then gave a rousing pro-wrestling-style victory speech that rivaled the bout itself in duration and violence.
Heavyweight Barnett wasted no time in shooting and scoring a takedown. Guelmino attempted to control Barnett inside a tight guard, but Barnett worked his way out, then grabbed for a leglock on his way back to the feet. Barnett then controlled Guelmino from the back standing , before a trip landed him squarely in mount. He faked a cross to get Guelmino to defend, which set him up in perfect position for an arm-triangle choke that ended the fight at just 2:11. “I had the flu on Friday and then a wisdom tooth infection,” said Barnett. “If I was at a hundred percent it would’ve been even shorter."
The win brings Barnett’s career total to 32, with just six losses; Guelmino stands at 11-4-1. When asked whether he saw himself joining the UFC’s dynamic heavyweight division after the win, the blustery Barnett claimed to not know what was next, only that he had a message to fighters in his weight class in all organizations: “Run, cowards, but I will find you and I will take your head!”
Watch Barnett's post-fight interview
Gegard Mousasi vs. Mike Kyle
Gegard Mousasi returned from over a year away to score a convincing first-round win over Mike Kyle.
The light heavyweights began by trading long punches in the center of the cage, but when the taller Kyle attempted to clinch, Mousasi got a takedown and landed in Kyle's guard. Kyle, no fan of being on the ground, particularly on his back, held on tightly, but eventually Mousasi made enough space to get through with ground-and-pound. That loosened Kyle's guard, and Mousasi quickly passed into mount and began raining down blows. Kyle turned away, giving up his back to Mousasi, who sank in a rear-nake choke until Kyle tapped -- first with one hand and then the other -- at 4:09.
"There was a lot of pressure on me coming into this fight coming off of a one year layoff," said Mousasi. "My conditioning was on point. After I landed the punches and had him dazed it was a lot easier to sink in the choke." Mousasi's victory improves him to 33-3-2; Kyle is left with a record of 19-9-1 (1 NC).
Watch Mousasi's post-fight interview
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. Ed Herman
The Showtime-television portion of the card began with a short bout between usual middleweights Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, a former Strikeforce champion, and Ed Herman, on loan from the UFC. Held at a catchweight of 194 pounds due to the last-minute nature of the match-up, Souza proved he was dangerous at any size as he dominated every aspect of the fight before finishing it at 3:10.
Jacare landed multiple big straights and two massive takedowns inside the truncated round. After eating several shots and being taken down, Herman attempted one leglock from bottom position, but when he illegally upkicked Jacare in the head, the bout was briefly stopped. Referee Mark Carter warned Herman but didn’t deduct a point, then returned the fighters to their feet. Jacare repaid the upkick with another onslaught of rights, a headkick and a slam. He landed in side control, where he quickly took control of Herman’s far arm and torqued it underneath him until Herman tapped.
“Ed Herman is very durable -- I hit him with a hard elbow and he didn’t buckle,” said Souza. “I knew I was the faster fighter and that I would be stronger on the feet. I was waiting for him to make mistakes that I could capitalize on.” The speedy kimura win improves Jacare’s stats to 17-3; in his eight-fight Strikeforce tenure, his only loss was his title defeat at the hands of outgoing champion Luke Rockhold. Herman’s loss moves “Short Fuse” to a 20-8 record, with one no contest.
Watch Souza's post-fight interview
Saffiedine Steals the Show: Strikeforce Main Card Results
Read on for results from Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine