By Adam Martin
When Strikeforce folded in early 2013, the UFC acquired many of the promotion’s fighters, including all of its champions except Cris Cyborg. Women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey came to the UFC, as did lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem, and Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix champion Daniel Cormier.
Of those fighters listed, Rousey held and defended the UFC women’s bantamweight belt multiple times, Melendez fought for the UFC lightweight title twice, Rockhold eventually won the UFC middleweight title from ex-champion Chris Weidman, Cormier moved to 205 list and won the UFC light heavyweight title, and Overeem, although he has lost a few times, finally seems poised to get his heavyweight title shot in 2016. All of those fighters have had a lot of success in the Octagon, to say the least.
In Saffiedine’s UFC debut, he took on Hyun Gyu Lim at the UFC’s first event in Singapore and won a unanimous decision in one of 2014’s best fights. But while Lim is a tough guy, it wasn’t the type of fight that could earn Saffiedine a title shot. It did, however, get him a chance to fight a top welterweight contender in Rory MacDonald, but Saffiedine showed he wasn’t up to par, as he was knocked out by MacDonald in the fourth round of their October 2014 matchup.
UFC on FOX 18, Saffiedine finally returns from his long injury layoff when he takes on Jake Ellenberger in a preliminary card fight. The Belgian has been training at TriStar Gym in Montreal for a while now, and in his first fight in 15 months it will be very interesting to see how he looks, because while he appeared to be a serious future welterweight contender when he first came over from Strikeforce, his performances in the Octagon have been somewhat disappointing. Sure, he did win FOTN against Lim, but he was nearly knocked out in that fight, and overall it wasn’t his best showing. And against MacDonald, he was completely outclassed, although it’s obviously intriguing that the two fighters are now training partners at TriStar.
It will be interesting to see how Saffiedine looks in his return to the cage, as clearly, he’s an extremely talented fighter. He is an ex-Strikeforce champ, after all. His striking, particularly his leg kicks, is wicked, and he has underrated wrestling. Training with a technician like Firas Zahabi at TriStar is a nice fit for Saffiedine, who could be able to follow a MacDonald-type gameplan to great success against Ellenberger and in future fights. It’s possible that with this new training, a big win over Ellenberger, and the confidence that comes with winning, he could return to the form he showed against Marquardt when he won the Strikeforce title three years ago.
But it all starts with a win over Ellenberger. The former welterweight contender has lost four of his last five fights and appears to be a shell of his former self, but he’s still a solid wrestler with knockout power. Still, it’s a winnable fight for Saffiedine on paper, and if he looks impressive in this fight, he’ll return to relevance in the UFC welterweight division, and possibly break into the top 10 of the division.
Saffiedine is one of the forgotten Strikeforce acquisitions, but at 29 years of age and presumably finally injury-free, he shouldn't be overlooked as a future UFC welterweight title challenger. We’ll see how he looks against Ellenberger this weekend, and if he does look good, don’t be surprised to see him fight a top contender in the next few months, and from there, the sky’s the limit.
UFC on Fox 18
• Jake Ellenberger vs. Tarec Saffiedine
UFC on FOX 18: Johnson vs. Bader takes place on January 30, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.