Tarec Saffiedine file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Tarec Saffiedine looks to take the next step in his mixed martial arts career Saturday when he faces UFC and WEC veteran Brock Larson on the main card of the Shark Fights 13 pay-per-view event in Amarillo, Texas.
"The first word I think of when I think about (Larson) is experienced," said Saffiedine on the Sherdog Radio Network's Jordan Breen Show Thursday. "He's fought a lot of good guys and was in the UFC for a while. I've worked hard and am really prepared for a good fight. I have a good game plan and I just have to stick to it and that way I can win the fight."
Shark Fights 13 will be headlined by a non-title light heavyweight bout between promotional champion Trevor Prangley and former UFC staple Keith Jardine. 2001 U.S. judo champion Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou will meet Nebraskan striker Houston Alexander in the main supporting fight.
Larson, who trains at the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy, has 23 submissions and six knockouts among his 32 wins. Saffiedine said he's comfortable if he gets taken down, though.
"I believe Larson is a stronger wrestler (than recent Saffiedine opponent Nate Moore) and he's more experienced," said Saffiedine, who trains at Team Quest in Temecula, Calif., after moving from his native Belgium. "I've been working on my wrestling and grappling skills. I work every day and train on it. My ground game is there. I know what to do if he puts me on my back. I'm not worried about it. I train hard for each and every situation."
Saffiedine, who has already fought for Dream and Strikeforce during his 11-fight pro MMA career, carries a two-fight winning streak into the bout. He picked up a unanimous decision over James Terry at Strikeforce Challengers 6 in February and followed that with a second-round knockout of Moore at Strikeforce Challengers 8 in May. Saffiedine has six finishes (one knockout, five submissions) among his nine wins, and his only losses came to Dong Sik Yoon and Kamil Uygun.
"The feeling of winning by knockout (against Moore) was huge for me," said Saffiedine. "It was a big step in my career. It came at the right time and was just hard work on my part. I've been working hard for the last two years, and hard work pays off."
Meanwhile, Larson has notched three straight wins since his second-round knockout defeat at the hands of Brian Foster at UFC 106 last November. Larson unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Condit for his WEC welterweight title in 2007, before the division was disbanded by the promotion and folded into the UFC’s ranks. The 33-year-old Brainerd, Minn., native went 3-3 in the Octagon, earning key victories over Mike Pyle, as well as John Alessio and Carlo Prater in the WEC.
The 24-year-old Saffiedine's journey to get to the Larson fight is one that books and movies are made of. A few years ago, Saffiedine was already a pro MMA fighter in Belgium. In an effort to make himself a better fighter, he e-mailed several gyms in the U.S. about coming to train, possibly on a full-time basis. Some gyms responded, but were less than enthusiastic. Others never wrote him back.
However, Team Quest welcomed him with open arms and Saffiedine has been there ever since.
"(Team Quest) let me train with the pros and really surprised me," said Saffiedine. "They gave me a shot and I trained my butt off for six months to make my point and show them I can be a part of the team. They appreciated that and they gave me a chance to be a part of the team. They saw in me a hard worker and I really like to work hard and train hard. After a year, they asked me if I wanted to stay for good and I said, 'Yes.' It's been a really great journey."
Saffiedine, who turned 24 earlier this week, said the move to California has helped him become a true professional mixed martial arts fighter.
"When I moved from Europe to the U.S., my main goal was to fight in MMA and make a living at it," said Saffiedine. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have come here. It's been a lot of sacrifices for me, my friends and my family, but they put me where I am today. When I was living in Belgium, I was working on the side and it was hard to be able to train as a pro and to fight. That's why I had to move. I wanted to take it to the next level. Now I can just train. It's unbelievable. To be able to just train and focus on my career and not have to worry about anything is a relief."