The inevitable influx of the lesser-known Strikeforce fighters into the UFC when the promotion folds after the Jan. 12 event from Oklahoma City reminds me of an underground Texas rapper by the name of Mike Jones.

Who? Mike Jones. Who? Mike Jones.

That’s the question and the answer that the rapper presented to get into the minds of fans and become a crossover success. Many fans probably asked themselves the same question about more than a few of the fighters on the roster for this final Strikeforce event. Outside of Strikeforce’s champions and a small handful of other notables, most of the incoming talent will need solid performances to imbed their names into the consciousness of MMA fans.

Case in point, Tarec Saffiedine.

When it was announced that Nate Marquardt would be defending his welterweight title at the event and that his opponent was to be Saffiedine, my first thought was, “Who?” Although I had watched Saffiedine fight several times, this pairing seemed to come out of left field. Saffiedine isn’t a fighter that pops into mind for many fans as a likely adversary for someone of Marquardt’s stature. The name of the UFC veteran and reigning Strikeforce welterweight kingpin overshadows that of the lesser-known Saffiedine to such a degree that most people wouldn’t find the Team Quest product to be a suitable challenger to Marquardt.

That’s not to say that Saffiedine isn’t a skilled fighter. In fact, he is very skilled and holds an excellent resume of wins under the Strikeforce banner. However, he is still in need of name recognition with a broader fan base. He is a veteran of seven fights within the promotion and has won all but one of them, having suffered a decision loss where he was grinded out by the superior wrestling of Tyron Woodley.

Saffiedine is a Belgian-raised fighter who has an extensive background in several martial arts striking disciplines. His fights in Strikeforce have showcased those abilities in striking as well as a serviceable wrestling offense. The best, and most entertaining, example of this would be his war with Tyler Stinson at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine.

Other than Stinson’s hairdo for the fight, there was nothing lame about the scrap. Both men traded back and forth with a wide array of strikes, and Saffiedine imposed his wrestling, which likely swayed the split decision win in his favor. It was a thrilling fight and one that helped to draw audiences towards the alternative value that Strikeforce brought to the table.

However, the same merit that the non-champion fighters gained from Strikeforce will not translate over to the UFC. It’s not that Saffiedine isn’t a professional fighter deserving of a big stage, but he wasn’t facing the best competition in Strikeforce. He stills need to do a lot to convince people that he can hang with the UFC’s welterweight division.

Saffiedine’s last three wins were over Roger Bowling, Tyler Stinson and Scott Smith, and they all ended in decisions. Saffiedine looked good in those fights, but a run like that would have different significance in the UFC. Meanwhile, his only loss in the promotion before those three wins was to Woodley, who has a top-level wrestling base in MMA for which “Sponge” had no answer. Saffiedine was soundly defeated by Woodley, and that is the closest we come to a gauge of Saffiedine’s ability to fight top guys.

Woodley already has a match set for UFC 156 with Jay Hieron, which we could reasonably say puts either fighter around the top 20 in the UFC’s eyes. If Saffiedine couldn’t get through Woodley, then logically we must say that he is a little further behind these guys.

Saffiedine has an excellent opportunity to vault into the MMA world’s consciousness if he can defeat Marquardt next Saturday. It would certainly be a leap-frog of a step for his career, and it would likely earn him a top-15 or so opponent for his UFC debut.

Win or lose, Saffiedine will still need to be built up by the organization. The casual fans that the UFC has been working so hard to gain would have no idea who most of the lesser-known Strikeforce fighters are, or where they stand in the MMA landscape.

It’s doubtful that anyone would be ready to say that Saffiedine can hang with the UFC’s top-10 welterweights. He isn’t the largest 170-pounder and his deficiencies in wrestling, which Woodley exposed, would leave him as no match for a Josh Koscheck or a Jon Fitch, let alone a George St-Pierre.

One of the biggest issues with Strikeforce’s cards has been the lopsided matchmaking. Just this week, Daniel Cormier opened as a 20-to-1 favorite over his opponent, Dion Staring. It’s quite possible that Saffiedine could be facing similar odds. It is not the fighter’s fault that the promotion couldn’t offer them a more even match-up. It is one of the reasons why the promotion is closing shop.

The bright side is that a fighter like Saffiedine could be welcomed to the biggest stage in MMA, one where his mettle could truly be displayed against a high number of quality competitors and with a good amount of fanfare.

The fighters that have the best qualities are the ones that rise to the top. Saffiedine has done well in Strikeforce, but that was a completely different animal than the UFC. He’ll be entering the rat race just like the rest of the “other guys,” and only time will tell if he has reached his potential or if he’s readying for his coming-out party.

Costa Philippou was in a similar position of being an unknown that some would say didn’t deserve to face a higher-ranked fighter, but he did against Tim Boetsch. And Philippou ended up winning. This will be the same situation that Saffiedine will hope to find himself in against Marquardt. If he performs well, he could change a lot of minds and open a lot of eyes.

Like the rapper Mike Jones, who came up from being just another hustler in Texas to join the big leagues of his occupation, Saffiedine could quickly find out that the people who paid him no attention—and even discredited his name—will be the ones who are there to praise him if he can create the same success for himself.

Photo: Tarec Saffiedine (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.