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Sunday, Jan 13, 2013

Full Contact Fighter’s “The Daily Takedown:” Strikeforce Dies, but Tarec Saffiedine is Born

Tarec Saffiedine (right) captured the Strikeforce welterweight championship in the promotion's main event and final bout last night (photo via Esther Lin / Showtime)

By Joshua Molina

It’s perhaps a bit of sweet justice that the guy who grew up on Strikeforce Challengers mastered the UFC guy, in the final Strikeforce fight ever.

Like a television show with a strong cult following, Strikeforce mixed martial arts ended its seven-year-run last night with a show full of excitement, surprises and disappointments. And, of course, it wouldn’t be modern MMA, without a horrible decision by the judges.

Strikeforce died a slow and painful death in 2012 after its new owner, Zuffa, which also owns the UFC, raided the roster of many fighters, stripping Strikeforce of much of its fighter muscle.

Showtime canceled two events in 2012 after two title holders who remained got injured before big fights. With little left of what once made Strikeforce a potent force in the world of MMA, Showtime and Zuffa decided against renewing the contract, officially folding Strikeforce into the UFC.

Saturday night’s featured a lot of what made Strikeforce great, before its untimely death.

The Excitement:
Tarec Saffiedine stunned the MMA world with a masterful performance, literally destroying ex-UFC star Nate Marquardt and Strikeforce Welterweight champion. Saffiedine leg-chopped Marquardt’s left thigh worse than Lex Luger’s chest after a Ric Flair chop fest.

By the end of round four, Marquardt’s left thigh was a bloody, bruised mess that made anyone who saw squirm.

You could see Marquardt flinch and then ache in pain after Saffiedine’s vicious quicks. Marquardt was walking like an old man by Round 5, hobbling in pain. Saffiedine finished the fight with a beautiful takedown, on his way to winning the fight by unanimous decision.

Saffiedine was one of the many guys who got his start on Strikeforce Challengers, a show that was designed to feature rising stars. UFC killed the show shortly after purchasing Strikeforce.

Saffiedine probably would never have gotten noticed in the larger UFC, but has become a world champion and star because of the opportunity Strikeforce gave him. Good for him, and the old Strikeforce.

The future of the UFC light heavyweight division may look a lot like Gegard Mousasi. After a year-long layoff, Mousasi shredded the tough Mike Kyle, who has fought at heavyweight. Mousasi beat Kyle by rear naked choke after successfully taking him down. Mousasi is one of those rare MMA fighters who extraordinarily talented, but sports zero attitude in the cage.

Mousasi possesses smooth transitions, brilliant defense and wicked, sharp-shooting striking. He truly exemplifies the word “arts” in mixed martial arts. Jon Jones, look out.

Josh Barnett cut another great pro wrestling-style promo, one that would make CM Punk look proud. Telling MMA heavyweights to “run cowards,” Barnett is one of the few guys in MMA who has the “It” factor. He doesn’t get along with UFC president Dana White, so his future in the promotion is unclear, but Barnett is one of the most entertaining and skilled fighters in the world.

Barnett and Cain Velasquez for the UFC title would spark a huge Pay Per View buy rate.

Saffiedine’s shocked the MMA world with his thrilling beat-down of Marquardt, who had no answer to Saffiedine’s kicks or takedown defense. Saffiedine looked like he was the champion defending against an outmatched opponent. Marquardt fell fast after his own thrilling upset of Tyron Woodley to win the title.

Showtime put together a polished, well-packaged history of Strikeforce in the form of a video montage and voice over by the voice of Strikeforce, Mauro Ranallo.

The story chronicled the start of the promotion, with footage of Frank Shamrock KOing Cesar Gracie, then embracing Nick Diaz after Diaz avenged his trainer’s defeat. It was nice to see Showtime remember its history and acknowledge some of its great fighters and moments.

Everyone expected Daniel Cormier to defeat Dion Staring Saturday night, but Staring walked into the cage with a desire to win. He fought with heart and didn’t let Cormier totally walk all over him. Cormier, of course, was the more skilled fighter and won by 2nd round TKO. Cormier then announced that he had signed a contract to fight for UFC and will debut on Fox on April 20. He called out Frank Mir, before saying he would kick Jon Jones’ backside in the fall.

The Disappointments:
Where was Mauro Ranallo? Ranallo was tending to a family health problem involving his parents. MMA broadcaster Ron Kruck pinch-hit and did a fine job. But Ranallo has become the Jim Ross of Strikeforce and no one in MMA matches his combination of insight and emotion when calling fights. The show is about the fights, but Ranallo is great at telling stories and helping fans feel like drama inside the cage.

KJ Noons got robbed. There’s no way Ryan Couture defeated KJ Noons. Noons, at the least, one two of the three rounds, although you could make a cause that he won all three rounds. Noons, one of the sport’s best boxers, pounded Couture’s face with power strikes. Noons pressed the action, forced the fight, and dominated Couture in every way.

Perhaps Couture’s name bought him some favor with the judges. But anyone who watches that fight would know that Noons deserves to win.

Let’s hope he signs with the UFC or Bellator because Noons is one of the sport’s most exciting fighters.

Finally, Saturday’s show should have been held in San Jose, California, where Strikeforce MMA began. Besides being a homecoming for Cormier, there was really no good reason for the show to be held in Oklahoma City. A San Jose crowd wouldn’t have booed the early rounds of Saffiedine vs. Marquardt because they would have understood what was happening inside the cage. Strikeforce held 19 shows in San Jose.

It should have come home to die.

posted by JoshuaM @ 4:45 pm
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