Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Tarec Saffiedine and Hyun Gyu Lim will square off in the main event of Saturday's (Jan. 4, 2014) UFC Fight Night 34 from Marina Bay Sands in Marina Bay, Singapore.
Saffiedine was originally slated to face Jake Ellenberger, but "Juggernaut" had to withdraw with an injury. Lim was already fighting at UFC Fight Night 34 and became a natural choice to replace Ellenberger.
A veteran of mixed martial arts (MMA) for nearly eight years, Saffiedine will make his long-awaited UFC debut after closing out Strikeforce's final show in January as the promotion's last welterweight champion. He upset Nate Marquardt with a brutal clinic of leg kicks, gaining him a good amount of momentum heading into UFC.
However, Saffiedine ran into a roadblock when he pulled out of his scheduled UFC on Fox 8 bout with surging contender Robbie Lawler. That may have been for the best as Lawler has been running roughshod through competition this year.
With "Ruthless" set to face Johny Hendricks for the vacant belt at UFC 171, Saffiedine looks to plant the seeds of the win streak he'll need to find himself fighting Lawler once again.
Lim made his Octagon debut at March's UFC on Fuel TV 8 in Japan, knocking out Marcelo Guimaraes in the second round. Lim followed that up by notching his second UFC win with an impressive knockout of Pascal Krauss at UFC 164 in August.
The "Fight of the Night"-winning performance earned the Korean-born Lim a chance at UFC Fight Night 34, but he's in for the biggest fight of his career against precise kickboxer Saffiedine.
Not to be outdone, Lim is no slouch on the feet with nine knockouts to his name. This fight could turn out to be an exciting display of striking. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Tarec Saffiedine vs. Hyun Gyu Lim:
Record: 14-2 overall, 0-0 UFC
Key Wins: Nate Marquardt (Strikeforce: Saffiedine vs. Marquardt), Scott Smith (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson)
Key Losses: Tyron Woodley (Strikeforce Challengers: Woodley vs. Saffiedine)
Keys to Victory: Saffiedine is a highly talented kickboxer who benefits from having trained under Dan Henderson at Team Quest for almost seven years.
"Sponge" is known for his ability to soak up MMA knowledge, and indeed it's a fitting moniker. Saffiedine has trained in Taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, karate, judo and wrestling. He has a karate black belt and amassed a 12-1-1 record as an amateur kickboxer.
With the knowledge of so many arts at his disposal, Saffiedine has become a master at outpointing his opponents en route to victory. His last loss was in his Strikeforce debut to current No. 11-ranked UFC welterweight Tyron Woodley. Saffiedine lost a decision in that fight and then proceeded to win four straight decisions of his own. All told, he's gone to the judges' scorecards in nine of his last 10 bouts.
That statistic won't earn him too many fans in UFC, especially in a crowded division full of exciting knockout artists and submission specialists. Saffiedine has to show up ready to get into a firefight with Lim. He may have no other choice, as Lim has preferred to use his striking more than any other method.
But that doesn't mean Saffiedine can't turn this into his fight. He'll be looking to stay out of Lim's range as he outpoints him with effective jabs and low kicks. He's won four fights in a row using that strategy, and it's tough to fix what isn't broken.
If the fight does go to the ground, Saffiedine will benefit greatly from the wrestling skills he's undoubtedly acquired while training at Team Quest. Striking prowess aside, Saffiedine actually has five submissions on his record compared to only one knockout. His brown belt-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills will give him a solid chance at a submission victory.
Saffiedine should have the technical edge in most areas in this fight. Lim has the power advantage, however, so it's up to "Sponge" to absorb everything Lim throws his way. It wasn't the top-level fight he was hoping for, but Saffiedine needs to win and win impressively to stay relevant in a fast-moving division.
Hyun Gyu Lim
Record: 12-3-1 overall, 2-0 UFC
Key Wins: Pascal Krauss (UFC 164), Marcelo Guimaraes (UFC on Fuel TV 8)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Lim is a power striker who's on a white-hot seven-fight win streak with all of the victories being finishes. He has shown an almost uncanny ability to put his foes to sleep since his last loss way back in 2009. Lim doesn't have much to lose here as he was originally set to face the much-lesser known Kiichi Kunimoto at UFC Fight Night 34.
Now he's fighting a champion of a major organization with a chance to get on a three-fight win streak in one of the best divisions in all of MMA.
Lim has to harness the possibility of that prospect rather than letting it burden him. As a replacement he won't lose too much position-wise should he lose, but he truly has the chance to shake things up with a victory. To do so, he's going to have to figure a way to get inside of Saffiedine's striking range to unleash some bombs.
"Sponge" showed us that he could make experienced veterans look silly in against Marquardt. While it could be argued that "Great's" skills had already begun to decline, there's no doubt Lim has to be able to check several kicks. If he doesn't, Saffiedine's going to chop him down kick by kick, sapping Lim's power and frustrating him in the process.
Two of Lim's three total losses have come by way of submission, so he has to be careful if and when this fight hits the ground. Saffiedine has him outclassed in terms of grappling. Lim will be best served to keep this fight standing.
The lights will be shining bright on Lim. He can prove that he's ready for a quick rise by finishing Saffiedine. If he can stay calm and find an opening for his effective striking, Lim could score the big upset.
Bottom Line from Singapore: The bottom line for this fight is that a series of setbacks have taken a lot of the luster off of Saffiedine's Octagon debut. So much has happened at 170 pounds since Saffiedine hoisted Strikeforce gold in January that he's become a bit of an afterthought until now. He still had a chance to make a big splash at UFC Fight Night 34, but Ellenberger unfortunately had to withdraw.
Now Saffiedine is in the unenviable position of having to beat a largely unknown yet very dangerous young fighter in Lim.
No one ever said the Octagon was going to be easy.
Truth be told a fight like this is actually good to gauge just where Saffiedine is in terms of skill level. If he comes in and finishes Lim, who has looked like an absolute buzz saw as of late, then we'll know "Sponge" is undoubtedly for real.
If he gets knocked out, on the other hand, then he obviously wasn't meant to fight opposition like Lawler and Ellenberger in the first place.
Lim is kind of on a free roll in a fight that he's supposed to lose. He does have the striking ability and confidence to beat a champion this Saturday. It's going to take an inspired performance but Lim is an under-the-radar dark horse at welterweight right now. If he can put a stamp on Saffiedine, the cat will be out of the bag.
With the fallout of UFC 168 still dominating the MMA world, this fight isn't getting a whole lot of press. Featuring two talented strikers, it could just turn out to be a barnburner. Enjoy the fight ad Happy New Year!
Tarec Saffiedine will finally make his UFC debut against young upstart Hyun Gyu Lim at UFC Fight Night 34. Will it be another workmanlike performance for "Sponge?"