This Saturday night at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman, Team Vison finisher and Cincinnati native “Relentless” Roger Bowling will step inside the Strikeforce cage on the strength of a two-fight winning streak against Team Quest product and Belgian prospect Tarec “Sponge” Saffiedine, who also rides a two-fight winning streak.
Both have been on the radars of fans and experts alike for a long time now, with Saffiedine losing a unanimous decision to then-undefeated welterweight Tyron Woodley. Woodley would go on to take Paul Daley and Jordan Mein to the judges’ scorecards, winning unanimous decisions over both, before suffering his first blemish in the form of a fourth-round knockout loss to UFC veteran and current Strikeforce welterweight kingpin Nate Marquardt.
After the loss to Woodley, Saffiedine ended his 2011 campaign by earning what many considered an upset over a solid favorite in a unanimous decision victory over Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith, and opened up 2012 by engaging in a hotly-contested bout with Tyler Stinson. Saffiedine would earn a split decision victory over Stinson, and it did enough to get him back onto the radar of MMA fans worldwide. Despite Stinson doing what he could to get Saffiedine reeling in the first round, Saffiedine got going in the later rounds, taking down Stinson in the second and controlling the action more effectively on the feet in the third.
Bowling’s path to Saturday night comes on the heels of his trilogy with “Vicious” Bobby Voelker, who suffered a technical decision loss to Bowling in May 2010, won the second fight in the second round with a TKO win over Bowling in 2010, and then earned yet another second-round TKO over Bowling in July of last year. Bowling recovered from the second of the two finishes against Voelker, and started by closing out his 2011 with a 42-second knockout of Jerron Peoples. This past March, Bowling built on that momentum by taking everything Brandon “White Steel” Saling had to give and finishing Saling at 1:15 of the second round.
Saffiedine is the younger of the two, and unlike Bowling, he has yet to face a TKO loss or a submission defeat in 15 minutes or less. The breakdown of this fight will show that while each man has his edge over the other, this bout is a close one to call because Bowling’s yet to face someone who can do what Saffiedine has done on the ground. And Saffiedine’s yet to contend with a fighter whose hands threaten his chin the way Bowling’s can. Both men seem like the right man at the right time to face each other in a welterweight division that desperately needs fresh blood.
Outside of Jason High, no welterweight has proven or even made their argument for a justifiable shot at the title. Jordan Mein seemed on a roll with a win over Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, but Woodley controlled him rather easily. Nah-Shon Burrell recently looked poised to step somewhere in line for a bump up in competition with a win over Chris Spang, brother of Bellator veteran Andreas Spang, but Spang finished him off and made his name known at Burrell’s expense. Spang could work as a title threat down the line, but he will need more than just his most recent win in order to prove that he might threaten Marquardt’s reign. Voelker has not been seen since beating Bowling in their rubber match, and Jorge Santiago will look to reinvent himself at 170—likely against Quinn Mulhern.
Meanwhile, fighters such as Kazuo Misaki, and even Mulhern, play the waiting game for the time being, with Misaki having no immediate knowledge of his next challenge and Mulhern focused on spoiling Santiago’s return to Strikeforce.
Woodley made for an entertaining contest against Marquardt, despite predictions to the contrary, but an immediate rematch does not work at this point in time.
With no options left, the winner of Bowling vs. Saffiedine makes perfect sense for Marquardt, or at least for a title eliminator against High.
But supposing the winner does get Marquardt, does either really pose a true threat to him?
One can speak it as a certain and proven fact at this time, as Marquardt did have a tough go-around with Woodley before the knockout, and both Bowling and Saffiedine do not go down without a fight, or at least without making their opponents dig deep for a win.
On one hand, there’s the case of Saffiedine, whose takedowns, ground-and-pound, and relentlessness resemble the type of onslaught that Marquardt traditionally has troubling contending with in fights. Unless Saffiedine plays Demian Maia to Marquardt and tries to stand with him for the entire fight, Marquardt could find himself in a familiar spot where a fighter brings a superior top game and establishes his aggressiveness early in the fight, making Marquardt look rather lost in areas where he would normally hold the certain advantage.
On the other hand, if Bowling should somehow put Saffiedine down hard and punch his ticket to a shot at Marquardt’s belt, he has the chance to do something that only Anderson Silva has done in the past six years, which is to finish Marquardt. As stated before, Bowling has the type of power and pressure needed to force Marquardt on his heels and put him down. The only areas in which Marquardt would hold a certain edge would be in the grappling department and in terms of experience.
In any event, the one key takeaway to never forget or misconstrue is that Marquardt is a big welterweight. Having a notable career as a middleweight, Marquardt’s size and strength only couple up with the obvious skills he possesses. Marquardt would have to use all of it to his advantage in order to implement any of his striking or grappling against either man. If he could do it against either, it’d mark a successful first defense of his title and it would be step one in his road back to the UFC.
However, right now, it is a moot discussion and one that can wait until the aftermath of Saturday’s event. For right now, the primary focus for Saffiedine and Bowling should shift to each other and the threats they will encounter within each other this Saturday in San Diego.
If the winner of this contest can put his opponent away in impressive fashion, and if Scott Coker can make some magic happen the way only he can, then as the old saying goes, “we’ll see what happens” with the winner of this Saturday’s contest and the champion Marquardt when the dust has settled.
Photo: Roger Bowling (blue trunks) who faces Tarec Saffiedine this Saturday at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)