Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Rory MacDonald and Tarec Saffiedine both look to take another step in the title hunt at UFC Fight Night 54 this Saturday (Oct. 4, 2014) on FOX Sports 1 inside the Scotiabank Centre, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
MacDonald is an extremely talented fighter. The 25 year old has been cutting through top contenders recently, faltering only once in a split-decision loss to Robbie Lawler. If MacDonald can take out Saffiedine, he's likely next in line for a title shot.
Unfortunately, Saffiedine's ability to build momentum has been severely cut down by inactivity due to injury. Regardless, the last Strikeforce welterweight champion returned to action in January and picked apart his foe in a "Fight of the Night" winning bout. He'll look to build off that solid win on Saturday.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each man.
Key Wins: Tyrone Woodley (UFC 174), Demian Maia (UFC 170), Jake Ellenberger (UFC on FOX 8)
Key Losses: Robbie Lawler (UFC 167), Carlos Condit (UFC 115)
Keys to Victory: MacDonald is an excellent technician as well as being a large, athletic welterweight. Plus, the Canadian trains out of Tristar, a camp famed for its brilliant strategies and system of fighting.
MacDonald is quite the duel threat. With an equal number (six) of submissions and knockouts, MacDonald has made it apparent that he's a very well-rounded fighter, having trained in mixed martial arts (MMA) since the inception of his instruction.
In this bout, MacDonald is facing a specialist. Saffiedine is an excellent kickboxer with sturdy takedown defense. If MacDonald falls into his opponent's game, then he's at a disadvantage, even if he could potentially out-strike the Belgian fighter.
Instead, MacDonald needs to utilize his excellent footwork and cut off the cage. When placed against the fence, Saffiedine struggles to avoid his opponent's offense, especially if his foe attacks with punches in bunches or looping strikes.
Speaking of, MacDonald should definitely incorporate more angled punches into his attack. He can still use his powerful kicks, but Saffiedine has been rocked by wild strikes before.
Still, MacDonald must look to use his ground game. "Ares" is a brute from top position and opportunistic with submissions, so if he can get on top of "Sponge," he can win rounds while looking for the finish.
Plus, MacDonald doesn't have to worry about Saffiedine's nasty leg kicks if he's smashing him on the mat.
Key Wins: Nate Marquardt (Strikeforce: Marquardt vs Saffiedine), Hyun Gyu Lim (UFC Fight Night 34)
Key Losses: Tyrone Woodley (Strikeforce Challengers: Woodley vs Saffiedine)
Keys to Victory: Saffiedine may not be a powerful puncher, but he's an extraordinary kickboxer with some of the sharpest low kicks in the business. "Sponge" may not be knocking his opponents cold, but he can cripple them.
In addition to his leg kicks, Saffiedine has very sound overall boxing, punctuated by his jab. His overall movement and defense are quite solid as well.
With these tools, Saffiedine controls the center of the cage very well. He keeps his opponent at bay with the jab and will land leg kicks as his foe attempts to move in or back away. Or, he'll cover up tight with a high defense guard -- Saffiedine is one of very few men who do this well in MMA -- and kick when his opponent punches.
Simply put, Saffiedine is excellent at this range. It's his sole advantage over "Ares." Therefore, Saffiedine needs to keep the fight at this range for as much of the bout as possible.
Luckily, Saffiedine's low kicks can help with that. After absorbing a few of Saffiedine's thigh crushing leg kicks, MacDonald will have a much more difficult time closing the distance or shooting for takedowns.
Then, he's stuck in Saffiedine's world.
Bottom Line: This fight could determine the next challenger to the welterweight title.
MacDonald in particular carries a heavy burden here. Hailed as Georges St. Pierre's prodigy and a mega prospect, the Canadian phenom does not want to lose to the relatively unheralded Saffiedine. That's not to say "Sponge" isn't an elite fighter, but he's not as big of a name as Lawler or Condit.
A win, on the other hand, would almost certainly earn MacDonald a title shot. Both a bout with Johnny Hendricks and rematch with Robbie Lawler are quite marketable in addition to being fun fights. It's only a matter of time until MacDonald fights for the title, and the young Canadian would prefer that happen sooner rather than later.
This is a massive opportunity for Saffiedine. Despite his inability to fight consistently, he has been thrust into the main event paired with a top five fighter. Should he pull off the victory -- and Saffiedine does in fact possess the skills to defeat MacDonald -- then he jams himself in the title picture.
Though a loss would hurt for Saffiedine, few fans expect him to win. It wouldn't really affect his place in the division, as MacDonald is already ranked above him, and Saffiedine hasn't really been active enough to create a run toward the UFC title. Thus, "Sponge" has very little to lose here and plenty to gain.
At UFC Fight Night 54, two of welterweight's very best in Rory MacDonald and Tarec Saffiedine will look to continue their pursuit of the title. Which man will emerge victorious?