Tarec Saffiedine, Strikeforce’s last welterweight champion, makes his UFC debut on January 4 in Marina Bay, Singapore, against Hyun Gyu Lim, and he wasn’t expecting to see GSP leave his throne like that, but he understands his decision.
"He has nothing else to prove," Saffiedine told MMAFighting.com. "He’s the champion for so long, he’s at the top. I understand that he needs to some time off, I guess, for whatever reason he claims. He was a great champion and now it’s going to be even more exciting for the welterweight division, for all the guys that want that belt."
Initially expected to meet Jake Ellenberger at UFN 34, Saffiedine doesn’t think his run to the title is going to be "easier" with GSP out of the picture.
"The welterweight division is so stacked, so many great fighters, and all the Top 10 are really tough," he said. "It’s not easy to get a title shot, but I’m looking forward to that challenge."
"Sponge" is a "big fan" of the now former champion, but believes he’ll have a hard time if he decides to return to the Octagon one day.
"I think when you’re in that position and want to take some time off and come back is hard, but I don’t know time will tell," he said. "I’ve been a big fan of Georges for a long time, he has the same type of background that I have as far as martial arts, and he’s French too. I think that, for the French community, a fight between us would’ve been great."
Saffiedine enters the UFC riding a four-fight win streak, capped off by a dominant victory over Nate Marquardt on January 2013. Injuries forced him out of the game for a long time, and he believes he lost his momentum.
"I will make sure people won’t forget me after that fight," he said. "That’s what I train hard for. I understand that I haven’t fought for a year, the hardcore UFC fans don’t know me very well yet, but I’m training really hard to put on a great fight.
"A win over Jake would get me closer to a fight against the Top 10 guys, but a good performance and a good win against Lim would get me there as well. Lim is a dangerous opponent and all I have to do is put on a good fight and win that fight."
"I was disappointed that Jake got injured, I was really excited to fight him," he said. "When I heard Jake was hurt and I would fight Lim, I went back to the gym to train even harder. He’s a dangerous opponent. I’m not taking him lightly. I was ready to fight anybody and I’m just excited to be part of the main event."
"Man, that’s a great fight," he said. "I can’t wait to watch that fight. It’s going to be hard. They both have knockout power. Both looked really good in their last fight, even though Johnny lost. Robbie has been looking really great lately. Whoever lands that hand will get the win, I guess.
"To be honest with you, I thought GSP won the first round (against Hendricks). It was really close, but I thought GSP had the first round. And they went two and two in the rest of the fight. So, for me, I thought GSP won, but if Johnny won the fight I wouldn’t have be surprised."