MMA Review: #431: Strike Force: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine

-Been meaning to look at this show for well, a year now. Oops. Anyway this was the show that we’d all been waiting for since March 2011 when Zuffa purchased StrikeForce – the final fling on Showtime before the promotion would fold, sending all the top talent to the UFC in one of the biggest talent injections in the history of MMA. Of course, it’d come a bit later than most were hoping and we’d already seen some crossovers – the likes of Diaz, Overeem and Henderson had already gone over previously – but regardless, this would be the final StrikeForce show. Initially it’d been labelled as StrikeForce: Champions, and would’ve seen Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold and Nate Marquardt all defending their belts, but the former two got injured and withdrew, leaving us with Marquardt’s defense against Tarec Saffiedine as the main event and a bunch of what looked like showcase fights for StrikeForce’s top stars to transition over to the UFC with as the remainder of the card.

Strike Force: Marquardt vs. Saffiedine

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

-Show begins with a cool video package on the history of StrikeForce, narrated by Mauro Renallo. Good stuff.

-Your hosts are Ron Kruck, Pat Miletich and Frank Shamrock. It’s a pity UFC didn’t keep Pat on as an announcer because he’s really, really good. Shamrock obviously less so but I’d still love to see him bury the hatchet with Zuffa because he’s a legend of the UFC who deserves to be recognized as such.

Middleweight Fight: Ronaldo Souza vs Ed Herman

This felt like a weird match to make as while the other StrikeForce stars were matched with fellow SF fighters, Jacare was instead faced with UFC veteran Ed Herman who made the one-time crossover, becoming the only fighter under the Zuffa regime to make that move. Odd stuff – I guess they couldn’t get anyone else to face Jacare. Despite Herman’s hard-nosed style I couldn’t see him overcoming the Brazilian in this one.

Round One and Herman throws out some low kicks as Jacare looks a bit tentative, waiting for his moment. They exchange some jabs and then go into the clinch, where Jacare forces Herman into the fence. Good dirty boxing from Herman and he breaks off. Left hook to the body from Souza and he follows with a double leg to guard. Instant pass to half-guard follows but Herman actually goes for a leglock. Jacare avoids and goes back into the guard, but he takes an illegal upkick and referee Mark Carter calls time to warn Herman. They restart on the feet, which I think is a fuck-up, but whatever. Jabs from Jacare and he follows with a hard right cross. Right hand connects for Herman to set up a clinch, but they quickly break off. Another straight right lands for Jacare. Herman clinches and they trade knees for a moment before Jacare breaks and lands with a front kick to the face. Slam follows and Jacare lands in side mount. From there he isolates the right arm and quickly locks up a TIGHT KIMURA to force the tapout.

Fantastic showing for Jacare who basically made Herman – who is not an easy out at all – look like a tomato can. He really couldn’t have made a better impression to lead into his UFC career and since he’s crossed over he’s proven himself to be a legitimate title contender. Kimura was a work of art really. As for Herman, while he got thoroughly squashed in this fight, the fact that he stepped up and went over to StrikeForce to take the fight means his own UFC spot is probably safe for some time, so good for him.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Gegard Mousasi vs Mike Kyle

These two had been booked against each other on FOUR previous StrikeForce shows but the fight had always been cancelled due to injuries and had to be put back together here. I believe this was Kyle’s first drop to 205lbs, too. Mousasi for his part was coming off a win over Ovince St. Preux, but that had happened in December 2011 meaning he’d also taken quite the long layoff. Despite that I wasn’t giving Kyle much more than a puncher’s chance – I’m a big Mousasi fan.

Round One and Mousasi right away lands a couple of jabs and a really hard leg kick that buckles Kyle’s right leg in. Kyle is swinging heavy shots here but he’s coming up short on them. Couple of knees land for Kyle as Mousasi closes the distance and looks for the takedown. Good defense from Kyle and he muscles the Armenian off. Jab from Mousasi but Kyle fires back with a decent combo. Lot of movement from Kyle here. Glancing head kick from the American. Kyle is throwing a ton of punches but Mousasi’s movement allows him to avoid the majority. Nice takedown from Mousasi and he lands on top in guard. Few punches and elbows land for Mousasi as Kyle works some elbows from his back. Kyle actually moves himself into half-guard in an attempt I guess at setting up a sweep, but it doesn’t work at all. Nice pass to full mount for Mousasi and he opens up with punches. Kyle turns his back and covers up, and from there Mousasi continues to punish him before slapping on a rear naked choke for the tapout.

Just as much of a squash as the opening bout if not moreso in fact. Kyle actually didn’t do too badly standing but once Mousasi took him down he got completely owned, from the moment they hit the ground to the moment he was tapping. I actually think Mousasi’s become underrated recently (rather than overrated which he was during his Japan run…) as really his only blemishes are a pair of controversial judging decisions, and I think if he can overcome the long layoff, he’s going to beat Lyoto Machida next month to set himself up as a UFC title contender this year. Poor Kyle became one of the few StrikeForce fighters not to be given a UFC shot following this show, but with his reputation can you blame Zuffa for not wanting him?

-Heidi Androl interviews Daniel Cormier who says he’s sad to see StrikeForce end, but glad because he’ll be moving onto bigger and better things. Then he has to sell Dion Staring as a serious opponent. And actually does a good job!

Heavyweight Fight: Josh Barnett vs Nandor Guelmino

Well, talk about an odd fight. As StrikeForce’s Heavyweight division had already been moved to the UFC in 2012 – outside of Barnett and Daniel Cormier that was – there was literally nobody on the roster for either man to fight outside of rematching with one another which would’ve been thoroughly pointless. So Zuffa scoured the globe – sort of – and brought in unknown Austrian Guelmino to face off with Barnett. The bigger question to me was whether Barnett would move to the UFC (this was the last fight on his StrikeForce contract) than whether he’d beat Guelmino, no offense to the newcomer.

Fight begins and Barnett shoots instantly and forces Guelmino into the cage before dragging him to the ground in half-guard. Guelmino gets to full guard and grabs a guillotine, but Barnett eases his head free and lands some short hammer fists. He stands and drops for a heel hook, but Guelmino pops his leg free and stands. Barnett instantly takes him back down and this time he’s got the back. The Austrian stands, and manages to avoid being suplexed, but Barnett takes him down again and this time he lands in mount. From there he easily locks up an arm triangle choke and from there Guelmino taps. Miletich is horrified at the fact that Guelmino appeared to give Barnett the choke, but I think it was more just ineptitude on the ground.

This was just as quick and easy for Barnett as basically everyone was expecting. Josh didn’t play with his food and basically took no damage whatsoever, which is like the perfect squash victory really. And of course he did end up making the crossover to the UFC and I think both parties are better off for it.

-They show us highlights of the prelim card with Roger Gracie, Pat Healy, Tim Kennedy and (in an upset) Ryan Couture picking up wins to take them through to the UFC.

Heavyweight Fight: Daniel Cormier vs Dion Staring

See the introduction for the previous fight for this strange match and replace “unknown Austrian Guelmino” with “unknown Dutchman Staring” and you’ll get the deal. Actually I guess Staring wasn’t *that* unknown – he’s a Golden Glory fighter who’s faced guys like Rogerio Nogueira before – but come on, nobody was expecting him to deal with Cormier after seeing DC smash up guys like Barnett and Bigfoot in 2012.

Round One and Staring uses an open left hand to paw towards Cormier, getting warned by Big John McCarthy for it. Left high kick glances for Cormier. Leg kick follows. Staring clinches and Cormier misses on a trip, but then hits a belly-to-belly suplex into side mount, dropping some short elbows to the face right away. Cormier tries to get the mounted crucifix, but Staring scrambles and gives his back, managing to stand albeit doubled over. Cormier lands some short punches and then lets him up, surprisingly. Big combo from Cormier has Staring in trouble and he backs up into the fence. Takedown from Cormier and he lands in side mount again. Elbows from Cormier again and Staring is barely defending. He somehow manages to scramble to his feet and McCarthy has to call time to replace the Dutchman’s mouthpiece. Just over a minute to go and Cormier clinches again and forces him back to the fence. Easy takedown from Cormier and he lands in full mount. Elbows and punches from Cormier and Staring’s in trouble again. He continues to land but Staring survives the round. 10-9 Cormier in a one-sided round.

Round Two begins and Staring rushes in with a combo that sets up a clinch, and I’ve honestly got no idea why this guy is clinching with a wrestler as good as Cormier. The Dutchman does manage to block a trip this time though and he breaks free. Jab into an overhand right from Cormier and Staring clinches again. Easy takedown from Cormier and he postures up over the guard before passing to side mount. Staring turns his back for a moment and then rolls, but he still ends up on the bottom of Cormier’s side mount. Big shots land for Cormier and Staring is doing nothing but roll from his back to his stomach while eating them. Hammer fists connect for Cormier and he continues to nail Staring as he rolls over and over. Finally Cormier keeps on landing and with just under a minute to go Big John stops the fight.

Cormier looked excellent here but really the fight wasn’t that exciting – in fact it was reminiscent of Cormier’s training partner Cain Velasquez’s early win over Denis Stojnic, a similar fighter to Staring – incredibly tough to finish but unbelievably limited and hard to look good against. Post-fight Cormier calls out Frank Mir and then Jon Jones, and of course he went on to beat Mir later in 2013 and the Jones fight is one I could see in later 2014 if things pan out correctly. Should be good!

Strike Force Welterweight Title: Nate Marquardt vs Tarec Saffiedine

Marquardt had won the Welterweight title in 2012 with an impressive win over Tyron Woodley, and this was to be his first – and only – title defense. Saffiedine meanwhile had gone 7-1 in his StrikeForce career with his only loss to Woodley, and was on a three-fight win streak coming into this. General consensus was that Marquardt and Woodley were probably the promotion’s best two 170lbers, and while Saffiedine was a talented fighter he probably wouldn’t have enough to deal with Nate the Great…who would then ride back into the UFC after being unceremoniously fired by them in 2011 after the Great Testosterone Controversy.

Round One begins and they circle, with both men looking a little tentative. Good leg kick from Saffiedine. Body kick from the Belgian is met by a right hand from Nate. Another leg kick lands for Saffiedine. Side kick to the body lands for Marquardt. Body kick from Marquardt is countered by another leg kick. Nate comes charging forward but walks right into a right hand that drops him for a second. He pops right back up but the Belgian lands with a head kick, forcing him to dive for a takedown. Saffiedine stuffs it and forces him into the fence, but they break quickly with Nate narrowly missing a big elbow. Leg kicks land for both men. Marquardt is switching stances quite a bit here. Another counter right lands for Saffiedine as Marquardt charges forward, and they clinch again. Elbow lands inside for the Belgian and they muscle for position and exchange some knees. Crowd begin to get restless as they spin around from inside the clinch, and with seconds to go they break. Round ends there. Impressive round for Tarec Saffiedine who countered really well. 10-9 for the Belgian.

Round Two and Saffiedine circles and opens with a body kick. Good leg kick from Saffiedine. Another low kick lands and Marquardt dives on a single leg, but Saffiedine sprawls back and lands some hammer fists to the head. Good takedown defense from the Belgian but Marquardt manages to trip him down. Saffiedine immediately scrambles though and works back to his feet. Front facelock from Nate and he lands a knee, but Saffiedine turns him and forces him into the fence. They exchange knees to the body before Marquardt drops for a double leg, but he can’t get it and so they remain clinched. Referee Big John McCarthy calls a clean break with two minutes to go and Saffiedine lands with another leg kick. They exchange some jabs and Saffiedine lands a couple more leg kicks too. Those have to be adding up. Takedown attempt from Marquardt but again Saffiedine sprawls back to block it. Good job from Saffiedine to muscle him off and they exchange some more strikes. Saffiedine’s defense is excellent as Nate is barely landing. Good leg kick and a right hand from Saffiedine. Wheel kick misses for Marquardt and causes him to slip to the floor to end the round. 10-9 Saffiedine.

Round Three and Saffiedine again opens with a leg kick. Spin kick misses though and Marquardt makes him pay with a counter right. The Belgian fires right back though with another leg kick. Jab from Saffiedine and he tries to go for a trip from the clinch, but Nate defends it and they wind up against the fence. Again they muscle for position and exchange some short strikes inside the clinch, but neither man is really coming close to a takedown. Good job from Saffiedine to slip free. Flying knee glances for Marquardt. Good leg kick from the Belgian. That sets up another clinch that gets broken after an exchange by a Marquardt short right hook. Saffiedine has to back up due to that, but he seems alright and fires back with yet another leg kick. Counter right lands for Saffiedine a couple of times. Good knee from the clinch for Nate but Saffiedine quickly breaks. Combo lands for Saffiedine. Big uppercut narrowly misses for Marquardt. More leg kicks from Saffiedine and they’re clearly hurting Nate now. His left leg looks like a mess. Jab into another kick and Marquardt is clearly favouring the leg. Good right hand lands for him but he eats another kick to counter. Seconds to go and Nate shoots, but Saffiedine sprawls and ends the round with a pair of knees. 10-9 Saffiedine. Marquardt is being picked apart.

Round Four and Saffiedine is clearly the aggressor now, pushing forward and landing sharp combinations early on including another leg kick. Plum clinch from the Belgian sets up a nice knee strike. He follows with another chopping leg kick. Nate’s leg is fucked. He continues to fire back with punches but he’s coming up short and Saffiedine keeps on landing the leg kick, making the leg buckle a couple of times. Marquardt comes charging in with punches but he can’t land flush as the Belgian’s range is really excellent. Another brutal leg kick hurts Nate. Every single kick has Marquardt wobbled at this point. Nate is still swinging though. And he’s still coming up short and still taking leg kicks. Good combination from Saffiedine ending in a knee. Another leg kick puts Nate on really wobbly legs. Saffiedine forces him into the fence with a clinch and Marquardt’s also got blood coming from around his eyes and nose too. These are the best leg kicks I’ve seen used in some time. Nate manages to clinch but Saffiedine breaks it quickly. Crowd are popping for each leg kick now as Nate’s leg looks a similar shade of red as Saffiedine’s shorts. Round ends in the clinch. 10-9 Saffiedine and Marquardt is just about done.

Round Five and again Saffiedine begins with leg kicks. Looks like Nate might be too flat-footed to be able to land any power shots too, meaning he’s likely screwed. He keeps coming forward but Saffiedine’s movement is killing him. Head kick into a low kick from the Belgian. Nate throws a combo to set up a clinch, but Tarec muscles him right into the fence. Knees to the body land for Saffiedine and he drops for a takedown, but even on one leg Nate manages to stuff it and break. Nice combos from Saffiedine and Marquardt’s face is a mess too. Right hand lands cleanly for Saffiedine. Takedown attempt from Nate is stuffed and Saffiedine forces him into the fence. Nate’s leg is now purple. Saffiedine breaks off and lands with another combo. Never seen anyone pick Marquardt apart quite like this. They clinch again and Saffiedine breaks with a knee. One minute to go and another leg kick lands for the Belgian. Beautiful takedown follows to put an exclamation point on things. Saffiedine lands in half-guard and begins to drop some elbows and punches. Fight ends with Saffiedine on top. I’ve got this a clear-cut 50-45 for Tarec Saffiedine, pretty lopsided decision.

Judges officially score it a unanimous decision for Tarec Saffiedine; 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46. I find it baffling that anyone could’ve given Marquardt a round there but whatever, right guy won anyway so it doesn’t really matter. Absolutely masterful performance from the Belgian as he used his range and movement to pick apart a very good striker, and by the time Marquardt appeared to realize the leg kicks were hurting him in like the third round, they’d already taken their toll enough to rob him of his movement and prevent him from ever catching Saffiedine with something nasty. It’s such a pity that he was on the shelf for a year after this because he’s largely lost the momentum it would’ve given him coming into the UFC, but I think he’s still a very dangerous man to anyone at 170lbs judging on this. Marquardt got picked apart for 25 minutes by a far better kickboxer in this fight and while there’s no shame in that, I do suspect he’s on the downswing of his career based on his 2013 in the UFC.

Post-fight Pat Miletich interviews Scott Coker who puts over Showtime hugely for being the home of StrikeForce for the past few years, and he seems pretty upset that it’s all over and done with now. Coker always seemed like a good guy to me and it’s a pity in a way that the guys around him (ie. Showtime) got too big for their boots in 2009 and tried to compete with the UFC, as if they hadn’t done that they could’ve still been around today as a solid #2 org. Ah well.

-Show ends with the results of a poll to decide the most memorable StrikeForce moment(s), and the fans decide that it’s the three upsets of Fedor Emelianenko. Can’t argue with that really! Highlight reel rolls and that’s that for StrikeForce, for good.

Final Thoughts….

Four squashes and an entertaining – if one-sided – main event is always going to be enough for a thumbs up from me, particularly when you’ve got fights ending in really slick fashion like Jacare and Mousasi’s finishes here. There isn’t really much of substance on tap if we’re honest simply due to the squash nature of the first four fights, but as a highlight reel for the winners going into their UFC runs it’s a lot of fun.

Best Fight: Saffiedine vs. Marquardt
Worst Fight: Cormier vs. Staring

Overall Rating: ***1/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: