Strikeforce preview: Four burning questions going into ‘Marquardt vs. Saffiedine' in Oklahoma City

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Every time Strikeforce puts on an event, speculation, questions and theories emerge about which fighters will perform ... or underperform. Will new contenders emerge? Will established ones fall? Where will the winners go? Which losers will still have a job on Monday? Who is healthy? Who is fighting injured? Anytime the Strikeforce athletes are set to enter the Hexagon, questions swirl.

This Saturday night (Jan. 12, 2013), the Strikeforce Hexagon will be set up one final time as the "Marquardt vs. Saffiedine" mixed martial arts (MMA) event goes down from the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK.

A welterweight championship contest receives top billing as Strikeforce 170-pound champion Nate Marquardt takes on longtime veteran of the organization, Tarec Saffiedine. With the event being the last in Strikeforce history, there are several interesting storylines to follow going into and coming out of the event, but only four can make the "burning" list.

That being said, here are four burning questions going into Strikeforce: "Marquardt vs. Saffiedine" this weekend:

4. How will Ryan Couture handle a step up in competition against K.J. Noons?

Ryan Couture, son of UFC legend Randy Couture, is still very green when it comes to his professional MMA career; however, his progression in the past few fights has been interesting to keep an eye on.

The 30-year-old hasn't exactly fought the cream of the crop thus far in his six-fight career, but he has defeated lower level lightweights such as Conor Heun and Joe Duarte. Couture doesn't have the decorated background in athletics of his father; he does, though, have a competitive drive and is a workhorse.

Couture brings his 5-1 professional MMA record back to the Strikeforce cage for what will be by far the toughest test of his career against former Strikeforce title challenger K.J. Noons.

For this fight, Couture goes from fighting bottom-level lightweight to Noons, a man that holds a win over UFC welterweight No. 1 contender Nick Diaz and has shared the cage with MMA greats such as Yves Edwards and Josh Thomson

Facing Noons is certainly a step up in competition for Couture, but it's hard to determine if it's one he is ready for. It's very possible that Noons will be too much too soon; however, it's equally possible Couture will show and prove he is ready to face the next level of competition.

Couture vs. Noons is an extremely important fight for both men, with the winner likely to move on to the UFC and the loser left in a state of uncertainty.

3. Can either of the heavyweight newcomers shock the world?

As the life has slowly been sucked out of Strikeforce over the past 18 months, the heavyweight division was one of the first things to fall by the wayside.

All the fighters in the 265-pound division were to be brought over to the UFC, which they were, with the exception of Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett, who were scheduled to face off for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix title in the tournament final. After the bout, which Cormier won by decision, each man was contractually obligated to fight one more time under the Strikeforce banner.

With all the heavyweights gone and matchmakers unlikely to book a Cormier vs. Barnett rematch, many wondered who each man was going to fight in his final Strikeforce bout.

That's where unknown veteran heavyweights Dion Staring and Nandor Guelmino come onto the scene.

Staring was booked against Cormier after a fight with the UFC's Frank Mir fell through. The Team Blackzilians fighter is an astronomical underdog to "DC," and for good reason. Although "The Soldier" has more than three times as much experience as Cormier, he has no notable victories and his chances against one of the sport's hottest talents look grim.

When Guelmino was paired against Barnett, everyone, including Barnett, was left scratching their head. The 37-year-old poses a minimal threat of defeating "The Warmaster," and there's a good chance he is going to be handed a one-sided beatdown in what will be his one and only Strikeforce fight.

If you're going to call a spade a spade -- both of these fights are nothing more than glorified squash matches.

That said, this is MMA and anything can happen at any given time -- especially in the heavyweight division. One mistake by either Cormier or Barnett could result in disaster and would be a crucial setback before entering the UFC.

It's unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

2. Is Tarec Saffiedine capable of killing Nate Marquardt's momentum?

Going into the main event of the final Strikeforce show between Tarec Saffiedine and Nate Marquardt, all the talk surrounds Marquardt and what an impact he is going to have on the UFC welterweight division after he wins on Saturday night.

Many are already discussing where Marquardt sits in the UFC 170-pound pecking order with the likes of Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit and Rory MacDonald, but "The Great" still has work to do before any of those talks become a reality.

The year 2013 is young, and Saffiedine can start things off with a bang by taking out Marquardt to earn the Strikeforce welterweight strap.

Saffiedine was granted the opportunity to fight Marquardt after winning three of his last four bouts, and six of seven in Strikeforce overall. He most recently defeated Roger Bowling and Tyler Stinson in a pair of decision victories, and wants to continue his hot streak with a big win over Marquardt, a fighter most consider among the top 10 welterweights in the world.

He hasn't defeated anyone on Marquardt's skill level, but every fighter has his or her breakthrough moment and Saturday could be Saffiedine's chance to shine. If "Sponge" can put it together inside the cage at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, there could be a new Strikeforce welterweight champion on Sunday morning.

1. Which fighters will shine in their UFC "auditions" and earn contracts?

After Saturday night, Strikeforce will be closing up shop for good, which means every fighter on the card is vying for a contract with the UFC. Promotion president Dana White has said not every fighter from Strikeforce will be brought over, meaning the stakes are raised for all 24 fighters competing on the card.

The likes of Daniel Cormier and Ronaldo Souza have already signed contract extensions that ensure they fight in the Octagon win or lose, and the Gegard Mousasi's and Nate Marquardt's are sure to cross over -- but for the ones who remain, the future rests on the outcome of their own performances.

Which fighters are going to make a statement on Saturday night and solidify their place on the UFC roster? Find out by tuning into the event this Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Showtime.

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