Almost a year ago, Tarec Saffiedine was on the outside looking in as Strikeforce got ready to shutter its doors and shuffle part of the roster over to the UFC. At the time, Saffiedine was fairly sure he wasn’t among the fighters expected to make the move unless he won his welterweight title fight against incumbent champion Nate Marquardt.
Five rounds later, Saffiedine battered Marquardt for the better part of 25 minutes with a vicious attack of leg kicks that sealed the victory for him. When it was over Marquardt’s lead leg was swollen about twice the size as the start of the fight and it looked like a blueberry pie exploded on his thigh from all the bruising.
Saffiedine may not have been on the UFC’s short list of Strikeforce fighters coming to the Octagon but he decided to punch his own ticket with the win over Marquardt.
Shortly after the bout, Saffiedine was a hot prospect in the UFC’s welterweight division. At the time he was the most talked about fighter at 170 pounds coming into the promotion from Strikeforce. He was immediately attached to a potential fight against Carlos Condit early in the year, but it’s at that point that Saffiedine’s year took a decided turn for the worse.
I want to go into the UFC and make a big statement and show the fighters, the rest of the division, that I’m here to stay.
Injuries began to mount as Saffiedine’s frustration grew. He had to turn down the Condit fight and then pull out of a bout against Robbie Lawler during the summer months. Those were two fights with the potential to put Saffiedine directly in the path of a UFC title shot — something he’s long dreamed about as a fighter.
Instead of sulking about opportunities missed, Saffiedine just used the time off to allow his body to heal up and get better in the gym. No amount of hurt feelings would get him the fights he wanted a year ago, so why sit around and complain about ‘what could have been?’
"There’s definitely a frustrating part during this last year with the injuries and everything," Saffiedine told The Great MMA Debate Podcast this week. "I kept my mind positive, I kept my mind focused. I didn’t sit at home feeling sorry for myself and eating pizza all day and putting on 20 pounds and just being miserable. I didn’t do that. I stayed focused, I stayed positive, and I believe I came back a better athlete, a better fighter, physically and mentally.
"I set goals for myself and until I reach those goals, I’m not going to let myself down. I’m not going to sit at home doing nothing. I had injuries, it’s something that happens to every athlete at some part of their career. I just have to suck it up and until I reach those goals, I’m not going to stop."
Setbacks are part of fighting and just like his own injuries that prevented Saffiedine from capitalizing on a big win last year to springboard into the UFC, he was also subjected to a change in his upcoming debut after Jake Ellenberger was forced to pull out of their fight due to injury. So instead of facing a top ten welterweight with a chance to vault into the top five with a win, Saffiedine will face little known UFC welterweight Hyun Gyu Lim, who may not have much name recognition but at 6’2" fighting at 170 pounds with two knockouts thus far in the UFC, he’s no slouch and definitely not a pushover.
"It was definitely hard not to fight Jake (Ellenberger)," Saffiedine said. "I was really looking forward to facing somebody like him, testing myself against somebody like him. He’s a good fighter. Also and a respectful fighter, when we met he was a great guy. I was really looking forward to facing him. When I heard he got injured and I got Lim, I trained even harder. Because Lim is the type of guy, he has nothing to lose, he’s dangerous and I cannot underestimate him. I cannot think about Jake. I have to win this fight, that’s all I’m focused on."
The positivity that Saffiedine exudes is infectious because despite opponent changes and a year away from the sport, he still believes he has a chance to make a very big impact in the division with his first fight this weekend. With Georges St-Pierre on hiatus and a new champion about to be crowned in March, Saffiedine knows he’s back on track to earn a UFC title shot in the next year and he’s over the moon with excitement to finally prove he belongs among the best in the world.
"Everybody now in the top 10 or top 15 is one or two fights away from being a contender or even a shot at the title. Before when Georges had the title, we didn’t know who really deserved the title (shot) but now everybody is up there with the title. So everybody’s excited. I’m excited," Saffiedine said.
"I have to put on a good performance. Whether it’s a win by KO, TKO or submission or it goes the distance, if it goes to decision it has to be an exciting fight. I have to win in a big fashion way. I have to for the fans to get to know me. I’m really excited to be the UFC. I’m the first Belgian coming into the UFC and I don’t want to go in the UFC and say ‘oh I went into the UFC and it was a good part of my career’. No, I want to go into the UFC and make a big statement and show the fighters, the rest of the division, that I’m here to stay."