Is Tarec Saffiedine ready for UFC’s elite?

After a dominant victory over Hyun Gyu Lim, Saffiedine wants a piece of a top 10 opponent.

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It seems like ages ago when Tarec Saffiedine fought. It was a world where Georges St-Pierre was still champion and Strikeforce was still a thing. Both are gone now, one absent and the other shuttered, which means that the UFC’s welterweight division is for the first time in years wide open terrain for 170-pound gold prospectors.

On Saturday night (or morning, depending on where you watched), Saffiedine attempted to stamp himself as a legitimate contender for that title, though it only felt like he half-accomplished that goal.

On one hand, he battered the heck out of the left leg of Hyun Gyu Lim to the point that the Korean collapsed several times under his own weight. Saffiedine scored four knockdowns (three on leg kicks) and finished the match with a ridiculous 70 percent connection rate on significant strikes (by comparision, UFC average is 42 percent). On the other hand, Saffiedine was unable to finish a one-legged man, and actually lost the last round after nearly running out of gas and being wobbled in the fight’€™s final seconds.

How does that suggest he’d do against some of the division’s elite? Given the inhuman stamina of guys like Carlos Condit and Matt Brown or the crushing power of others like Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler, it can’€™t be seen as overwhelmingly encouraging.

Hyun Gyu Lim found out first hand what a Saffiedine leg kick feels like.

To be fair, Saffiedine’€™s late fight struggles could be the result of a long layoff due to injury. It was a year ago when he beat Nate Marquardt to capture the Strikeforce belt, and he hasn’t fought since. If it is something that simple to address, Saffiedine must be looked at as a player.

His win over Marquardt was something of an eye-opener at the time. When they fought in Jan. 2013, Saffiedine was a fairly sizable underdog whose only real win of note had come over slugger Scott Smith in the twilight of Smith’€™s career. Up until that point, Saffiedine was seen as credible fighter with a fairly complete game but few openly discussed him as a UFC championship-level talent. Defeating Marquardt in a fairly convincing manner caused the fight world to open their eyes to the possibility.

Saffiedine came into the fight with Lim ranked at No. 10 in the UFC’s latest rankings, and because Lim is unranked, the win isn’€™t likely to elevate him. That said, Saffiedine showed a few characteristics that are key to his future success prospects. For one, his striking execution was nearly flawless until those final seconds. Saffiedine brilliantly led Lim around the cage with his footwork and angles, and as a result, was almost always in the best possible position to land effectively despite a massive nine-inch reach disadvantage. That was remarkably impressive to watch. He also mixed up his strikes brilliantly, changing up combinations to disguise his intent. That’€™s partly what gave him the openings to batter Lim’€™s limb unimpeded for nearly 25 minutes.

Saffiedine’s varied attack left Lim unable to defend himself properly.

Saffiedine is slick but if there is one criticism to be made about him, it has to do with being a bit cautious. In his career he has only six finishes in 15 wins, and hasn’€™t notched a single one in his last seven fights. We saw that caution come to the surface against Lim, who could barely find a way to get upright when Saffiedine thwacked his leg and dropped him, but Saffiedine never really came close to finishing him.

Sure, Saffiedine had to respect Lim’s power and unpredictable barrages, but couple that issue with his late fade, and you have reason for concern as he moves in against the upper echelon, which he is likely to do in his next bout. As a former Strikeforce champ, Saffiedine certainly deserves the step up in competition, but in Lim, he was basically fighting an opponent whose best attributes were wild power and heart. There was not a whole lot that he could do technically that could challenge Saffiedine. That will change as Saffiedine moves up the divisional hierarchy.

The biggest takeaway from Saffiedine is that as he advances, he will nearly always have to fight perfectly to win. That is not necessarily true for finishers like Hendricks and Lawler and Condit, who can survive an early mistake to find victory. Saffiedine has to win on his technique all the time, which as GSP showed us, is doable but far more difficult.

Against Lim, he showed us a little of everything, enough to see that at his best, he can compete with anyone. For a first act in the UFC, it was good enough. Now comes the hard part.