After seemingly being forced out of the UFC forever in 2011, Nate Marquardt is likely one win away from a return engagement in the promotion. The current Strikeforce champion is a 3-to-1 favorite to beat Tarec Saffiedine in Saturday night's Strikeforce: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine main event.
The organization's swan song has put many fighters in limbo, and Saffiedine is one of them. The challenger said during a Thursday media interview that he had been offered no guarantee that he would be brought into the UFC after Saturday night, raising the stakes far past being the last-ever divisional champion in the promotion's final fight.
Saffiedine (13-3) will offer Marquardt his sternest test in the standup department, where he uses footwork, angles and a diverse set of strikes in an unpredictable attack that is centered around patience. He will often wait for his opponent to come forward before beginning his own movement and uses an economy of motion in executing his strikes. He is also quite graceful and creative, occasionally unleashing unusual combinations that are rarely seen, or utilizing strikes in unexpected scenarios.
One of the keys to Saffiedine's striking success is his balance. He does not overextend himself attempting to land knockout blows, and he keeps his form throughout the action, which often means he gets the best of exchanges when opponents start swinging wildly.
On the down side, Saffiedine has never displayed fight-stopping power, with only one career knockout among his win total. That could be a major problem against the rugged and hard-charging Marquardt, who is as well-rounded as they come and has savaged opponents from nearly every conceivable position.
Marquardt's longtime success has been centered around his ability to overwhelm opponents anywhere.
Consider these career facts about Marquardt, culled by FightMetric:
* he's accurately landed 53 percent of his career while only absorbing 37 percent of the strikes against him
* he's landed almost twice as many strikes per minute as his opponent (2.82 to 1.47)
* he's scored 72 percent of his takedown tries and has only been taken down on 27 percent of the tries against him
Now keep in mind that those gaudy numbers were almost exclusively achieved against middleweights. Now 33, Marquardt made the move down to welterweight and put on a jaw-dropping performance against Tyron Woodley last July.
When Marquardt steps into the cage against Saffiedine, he'll be demonstrably the bigger man. At 6 feet tall, he's about two inches taller. He also boasts a reach advantage of nearly four inches, and he's likely cutting far more weight.
While Marquardt (32-10-2) has in recent years become more of a power puncher, he really made his name as a submission grappler, and has since risen to the rank of a second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He has 15 of his career wins via tapout, and comes to life with his aggression in scrambles. Given his prowess in those arenas, it seems likely that Saffiedine will want to avoid the grappling aspect of the fight as much as possible.
Saffiediene may have the ability to do it. So far to date, he boasts a takedown defense rate of 86 percent, an excellent number. But he was taken down three times in a loss to Tyron Woodley, and I would offer that despite Woodley's strong collegiate wrestling credentials, Marquardt has proven to be a better offensive MMA wrestler than him.
That said, I'm not quite convinced that Marquardt will make any extensive attempts to bring the fight to the ground, confident that at 170, his striking power and arsenal can overcome any technique Saffiediene throws at him.
In looking over Saffiedine's history, it's also quite glaring that he's never faced a single fighter who has been a top 10 divisional threat. Woodley is his most decorated opponent, and that's a fight Saffiedine lost by unanimous decision after failing to shut down Woodley's wrestling game. Aside from that, his last three fights were with Scott Smith, Tyler Stinson and Roger Bowling. Contrast that with Marquardt, who has an abundance of big-fight experience with names like Anderson Silva, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami, and you can see the jump that Saffiedine is making in this bout.
Saffiedine's striking is good enough to challenge Marquardt for stretches, but in a five-round fight, expect to see the champion's physicality bend the fight into his image. Saffiedine has never been knocked out, and if he can survive 25 minutes with the ferocious Marquardt, he will have surpassed any reasonable expectation in a tough style matchup. But given Marquardt's ability to craft a fight style to his liking, I'm going with him over the patient Belgian via third-round TKO.