Two of the most talented welterweights on the Strikeforce roster will throw down tomorrow night (Jan. 12, 2013) as welterweight champion Nate Marquardt takes on challenger Tarec Saffiedine in the final main event in Strikeforce history in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Marquardt left the UFC on bad terms but has redeemed himself through Strikeforce, returning with a vengeance in one of 2012's most entertaining fights when he handed Tyron Woodley his first career loss to capture the vacant Strikeforce welterweight title. Now, he's looking to enter the UFC and the title picture with some momentum by defending his belt this weekend.
Tarec Saffiedine has worked his way up through the ranks, defeating stiffer competition with his precision technical striking to vault himself into the title picture. Since suffering the first defeat of his sting with Suffa, "The Sponge" has won three straight decisions over powerful welterweights to earn his crack at the belt.
Will Marquardt end his Strikeforce tenure on a high note? Has "The Sponge" soaked up enough mixed martial arts knowledge to pull off the upset? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 32-10-2 overall, 1-0 in Strikeforce
How he got here: Nate Marquardt, believe it not, has been fighting consistently and professionally for over 14 years now. "The Great" began his career in 1999, winning a pair of one-night tournaments before heading over to Japan to compete in the Pancrase promotion.
After losing his debut to Genki Sudo, he moved up to middleweight and went on a nice run, eventually earning a shot and winning the "King of Pancrase" title in that division for the first time in the promotion's history. Marquardt would eventually become "King of Pancrase" three times during his six year run with the promotion.
Eventually, Marquardt was signed by the UFC and after winning his first four bouts, he was given a title shot against Anderson Silva, although he would be TKOd at the end of the second round.
Since then, Marquardt was constantly on the verge of getting another shot at the belt but always fell short whether it was a goofy loss to Thales Leites, getting outwrestled by Chael Sonnen or getting outworked by Yushin Okami. He eventually made the drop to 170 pounds and was slated to headline UFC on Fuel TV 4 last year but it was discovered he had misused his TRT treatments and his ratios were too high.
Marquardt was immediately pulled from the main event, kicked out of the UFC and spent the next 9 months in MMA purgatory. Eventually, all was forgiven and he was signed by Strikeforce to vie for the promotion's vacant welterweight title, where he defeated Tyron Woodley via vicious knockout to capture the belt.
Now, he's hoping to return to the UFC on a solid winning streak with a title defense.
How he gets it done: Marquardt is incredibly well-rounded but he's especially dangerous on the feet with some serious knockout power. Who can forget his 21 second thrashing of Demian Maia or the brutal knockout of Woodley in his last bout?
With Saffiedine being a patient fighter, Marquardt should play into it by stepping up his aggression and giving the Team Quest fighter a different look than he's used to. Expect to see "The Great" push forward and try to force Saffiedine to fight on his heels, which will force the young striker to lose some pop on his punches and shift his strategy mid-fight.
Marquardt is also more diverse on the feet than Saffiedine so look for him to mix up his attack with kicks to the legs, body and head while getting inside with elbows and short strikes. If he can get in a rhythm, you might even see one of those crazy video game combos that he's been prone to use on special occasions.
Record: 13-3 overall, 5-1 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: Tyron Woodley (Strikeforce Challengers 13)
How he got here: Tarec Saffiedine grew up in Belgium with a strong background in the striking arts. He had a 12-1 record as an amateur kickboxer but fell in love with Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu which led to his transition to mixed martial arts.
He came to the US to train with Dan Henderson's Team Quest where he quickly earned the nickname "Sponge" for his incredible ability to absorb new information and utilize it. His only loss for four years was a close split decision to Yoon Dong-Sik when he stepped up in weight on very short notice in DREAM.
After getting off to a hot start in the Strikeforce Challengers series, he was slated to face fellow top welterweight prospect Tyron Woodley one year ago. In that fight, Woodley repeatedly took Saffiedine down, frustrating him with top control while avoiding all of his sweeps and submission attempts on the ground to take a unanimous decision.
He followed up his loss by turning Cinderella man Scott Smith into a human punching bag this past summer and he put on a good show against Tyler Stinson last year and followed it up by weathering the early storm against Roger Bowling to win a decision and earn his shot at the belt. .
How he gets it done: Saffiedine has a plethora of weapons which make him very dangerous. He's a patient fighter so he'll likely open cautiously, wary of the the Marquarts power and unpredictability but as he begins to loosen up and gain confidence, he'll start to pick up the pace.
Saffiedine is very dangerous from any position. He possesses competent leg, body and head kicks as well as power in both hands. His biggest concern will likely be Marquardt's diversity so he'll have to be on point with his terrific striking defense.
It's not very likely that this fight goes to the ground as both men are much more menacing on the feet and both are confident in their skills. Saffiedine loves to wait for that perfect moment to strike, but if Marquardt doesn't give him a great opportunity, he'll have to break out of his comfort zone and try to create some of his own holes to exploit.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the stakes for both men. Nate Marquardt has already punched his ticket back into the UFC win or loss, but if he doesn't go out and take care of business against Saffiedine, he will be in the back of the line for a potential shot at the UFC Welterweight Title.
Saffiedine, on the other hand, has nothing to lose. He's not expected to win so this will be his opportunity to go in and try to make something happen. If he's overaggressive and makes a huge mistake, who cares? He's not getting a title shot in the UFC anytime soon so just go in there and put it all on the line. The worst thing that can happen is getting knocked out and in the the grand scheme of things, that's not so bad.
Bottom Line: I'm entering this bout with cautious optimism. Both men will likely want to help Strikeforce go out with a bang and considering both fighters prefer to stand and trade, there's some potential for some exciting exchanges on the feet. One thing to be tempered about is Saffiedine's overly patient fighting style, waiting for those perfect opportunities to open up on the feet. If he's intimidated or can't find that opening, this fight could turn into a staring contest. Hopefully that doesn't happen.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!