The final fight in Strikeforce history took place last night (Jan. 12, 2013) as defending Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nate Marquardt put his title on the line against rising prospect Tarec Saffiedine in the main event of Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Marquardt entered the bout as a 3-1 favorite according to the oddsmakers and had been a standout performer in the UFC while Saffiedine had spent a majority of his career in Strikeforce working his way up from the Challengers series all the way to the main event of the promotional's grand finale.
The surprising upset outcome couldn't have been more fitting.
Saffiedine fought a very patient and cautious gameplan early on, doing everything he could to avoid getting hit by Marquardt in the opening two rounds while mixing in his technical striking from the outside with jabs, leg kicks and clinches whenever things got feisty.
Marquardt had no answer for Saffiedine's "pick you apart" strategy and resorted to plodding forwards trying to occasionally throw a huge power strike and score a knockout blow without any real set-up.
By the third round, the leg kicks began taking their toll and Marquardt's lead left leg began to swell, bruise and slow him down. Saffiedine keyed on this and began pounding the champion with extremely precise kicks to the exact same spot, working over "The Great's" lead leg something fierce.
With Marquardt hobbled, Saffiedine began to pick up the tempo with his punches, attacking to the head, becoming the aggressor and stalking forward, which again the champion had no answer for.
By the end of the fifth round, the fight had turned into a one-sided beating and Saffiedine put icing on the cake by taking the supposed superior grappler down in the final minute and dropping punches until the horn sounded. The resulting decision was a piece of cake as "The Sponge" was awarded the victory and the Strikeforce Welterweight Title to boot.
For Nate Marquardt, his performance was incredibly perplexing and his history of being inconsistent proved foreshadowing. Nowhere here did he take risks, really go after Saffiedine and try to take advantage of his opponent's initial lack of output. Once Saffiedine began attacking his lead leg with kicks, he did not start checking them until the fifth round and by then, the damage had already been done. To top it off, he refused to adjust, simply accepting the kicks rather than changing stance or picking up the pace.
Lastly, he actually looked like the weaker of the two as Marquardt repeatedly found himself on the losing end of clinch exchanges with Saffiedine taking the inside position time and time again.
Marquardt is expected to be invited back into the UFC fold regardless of if he had won or lost, but now expectations may be tempered. Instead of a potential fight against Georges St. Pierre down the road, he'll likely end up fighting someone like Mike Swick, Thiago Alves or perhaps a rematch (now at welterweight) against Martin Kampmann.
For Taric Saffiedine, this was about as good of a performance as he possibly could have put forth. The only way it could have been better was if he had finished Marquardt in the fourth or fifth round. He picked the champion apart with some of the most precise leg kicks I've ever seen and completely flustered the champion with his defense. He has this amazing ability to occasionally put forth offense while never taking damage. You could count on your hand how many times Marquardt landed a solid punch to the head last night and that's a testament to Saffiedine's footwork, use of distance and overall brilliant defensive tendencies. This was hands down the biggest fight of his life and he rose to the occasion.
Next up for Saffiedine will likely be a fellow welterweight on the rise in the UFC like Matt Brown and John Hathaway or an established veteran like Mike Pyle. All the elite welterweights are tied up for several months so those are the best options available if he came out of this fight unscathed and wants to battle someone with momentum in his UFC debut.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Were you pleasantly surprised by Saffiedine's performance last night against Marquardt? What do you think he'll be able to accomplish in the UFC? Could he ever be a contender?