Tarec Saffiedine wants top 10 opponent after successful UFC debut

USA Today Sports

Of all the Strikeforce fighters that have been slowly integrated into the UFC, none have been slower than the reigning welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine. The Belgian finally made his UFC debut on Saturday in Singapore on the inaugural UFC Fight Pass card, and -- after some early trouble -- cruised to a decision over Hyun Gyu Lim.

Saffiedine had been scheduled debut in July against Robbie Lawler on UFC on FOX 8, but was forced out with an injury. He was then slated to face Jake Ellenberger in Marina Bay, Singapore, yet Ellenberger had to withdraw due to a hamstring injury, and was replaced with the 6-foot-3 Lim.

Saffiedine put on a technical masterpiece with Lim from the second round onwards, once he figured out how to deal with the Korean’s long reach, size and timing. With the victory, Saffiedine has now won five fights in a row since losing to Tyron Woodley in Strikeforce Challengers in early 2011. But whether or not his profile as a top 10 welterweight was raised on the Internet-only broadcast remains in question.

The 27-year old Team Quest fighter appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, and weighed the advantages versus the disadvantages of fighting on an exclusive web only broadcast.

"Yeah, I wanted to be on TV -- that would have been pretty cool being on FOX for my first fight," Saffiedine told Ariel Helwani on this past Monday's MMA Hour. "But I think also I knew a lot people back home for me in Belgium, if it had been on FOX would have been a hard time to watch the fight. So I think that was a good thing to be on UFC Fight Pass. I think for the people outside the U.S. it’s a great thing. But as far as being in the U.S., I think people were wondering why I wasn’t on TV. It’s not a great way to go mainstream internationally."

Saffiedine was able to pick Lim apart on his feet, using a variety of combinations and movement. Though he dominated the middle rounds, the performance was bookended by some trouble in the first round, and then in the last, when Lim caught Saffiedine and dazed him late.

He said that figuring out Lim’s reach and size took a little adjustment period.

"Yeah, man he was pretty big. Pretty tall, pretty big, long reach. When I saw him at the weigh-ins he was pretty big, but at the fight I was like damn—this guy’s big. In the first round I was kind of figuring it out. I wasn’t too worried about losing or winning the fight, but I was able to figure out even more as the fight went on."

There were moments in the third and fourth rounds where Saffiedine had Lim rocked and could have put him away. But in each instance, rather than making Lim stand-up where he could put an exclamation mark on things, he chased Lim to the ground, which ultimately stalled and extended the fight.

Why didn’t he let Lim stand back up so he could finish?

"That’s a good question," Saffiedine said. "I keep asking myself why I did that. I think it was just in the moment. I sent him to the floor, and I tried maybe to ground and pound him and end the fight this way, but it wasn’t a smart move, and I won’t do that again. I think I should have just waited for the ref to stand him up and tried to finish the fight like that, but like I said, I was just anticipating."

In the fifth round, Saffiedine himself got rocked, though he said it might have looked more severe than it appeared on the broadcast.

"He rocked me pretty well, but I was conscious the whole time. I think I was dizzy, but I was able to see whatever was coming. That’s why I covered up pretty well when he threw that flying knee."

Saffiedine is now 15-3, and believes he’s back in the top ten in the welterweight division. He said he wanted to face a top ten guy next in the division, and when pressed for names, he mentioned Martin Kampmann, Jake Ellenberger or the winner of Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley, the latter of whom gave him his only loss in the last four years.

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