Tarec Saffiedine hasn’t lost his Top-15 ranking in the UFC’s welterweight division, this despite having not won a fight in over two years. For practically anybody else, this would be cause for internet sniping and snarky comments, but as one of the top 170-pound fighters in the world, Saffiedine still deserves to be among the best of the best.
Being a gentleman doesn’t hurt either, and so while Saffiedine has dealt with a loss in his last fight against Rory MacDonald in October of 2014 and then with the subsequent injuries that have kept him from the Octagon, he hasn’t complained, hasn’t made the public noise some in his position might make.
He simply got healthy and plotted his return, one that comes a week from today when he faces Jake Ellenberger at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Yet plotting a comeback doesn’t mean just healing up wounds and showing up. And in Saffiedine’s case, this plot involved a twist many didn’t see coming.
Long associated with Dan Henderson’s Team Quest squad in Temecula, California, Saffiedine has trained for Ellenberger far from home in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, home to Firas Zahabi and the Tristar team. No, there was no drama involved, just a desire for the 29-year-old Brussels native to switch things up a bit.
“I needed a change in my training, and my training partners and trainers as well,” he said. “I have nothing bad to say about Team Quest and we didn’t have any bad blood or anything like that. I just needed a change. After eight years there, I felt it was time to find new ways and learn new stuff.”
And Tristar was the perfect fit on several levels. But if you’re wondering, he didn’t have a gym rematch with MacDonald.
“Not yet,” Saffiedine laughs. “We’ve been training together a couple times, and it’s been good. I’ve always been attracted to the gym. Obviously, GSP (Georges St-Pierre) and Firas and all the trainers here have created a lot of really good contenders and champions at 170 and 155 and even at 185. That’s a lot of training partners around my weight. And I’ve always followed their training methods through social media and stuff like that, so I said ‘let’s try,’ and they really welcomed me and made me feel part of the team.”
Saffiedine, a former Strikeforce welterweight champion, is really one of the guys in Montreal, so much so that he’s living in the famous (or infamous) Tristar dorms.
“It’s a good thing,” he said, just before noting that, “It’s like prison here.”
Saffiedine laughs, embracing a lifestyle that goes back to the days when he was just a hungry young fighter trying to get a break and make this a career.
“I’m literally eating, sleeping and training. That’s all I do. The only time I go out is to buy groceries, and it’s snowing and cold here, so you don’t go out too much. It’s definitely kept me focused on what I need to do. It keeps me hungry, keeps me focused and gets me back to those early days when I was also just training and grinding every day. I think it’s really good for me. It’s what I needed.”
About the only negative of the situation is being away from his wife and two kids. That’s never easy to deal with for Saffiedine, who, even when he was training close to home, didn’t get many Christmases. In fact, since 2011, he’s fought in January four times, this being his fifth.
“I don’t know if Zuffa has something against me and spending holidays with the family,” he laughs. “I haven’t really had a real Christmas where I can enjoy the time and the food, especially the food. I’ve trained every Christmas Day for the past four years and this time was no exception. I was at the gym training for Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Day. But this is the sport. My kids are young, so they don’t really get it, but my wife is really supportive. We’ll get a bigger Christmas next year. But it’s been tough.”
Tough is what makes fighters who they are though, and when you mix tough with talent, you get someone like Tarec Saffiedine, an opponent no one wants to see across from them on fight night. In seven days, he gets his chance to remind the world of that fact.
“On January 30, it’s going to be three months I’m away from home, just focusing on this fight,” he said. “I’m making a strong comeback and training really, really hard to get that W.”