Following his performance Saturday night, Tarec Saffiedine will forever be known as the final Strikeforce welterweight champion.
The “Sponge” lifted the belt from UFC veteran Nate Marquardt in the titular main event of Strikeforce “Marquardt vs. Saffiedine” at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, snatching a unanimous decision to become the first Belgian to win a world title under the Zuffa umbrella.
“I have no words. It’s been a long time, and I’ve been working so hard in my country and training in the U.S,” Saffiedine told Showtime Sports after his win. “Hard work pays off, I guess. It’s a dream come true.”
Though the triumph marks the highlight of Saffiedine’s career to date, the 26-year-old revealed the victory to be bittersweet due to the win coming at Strikeforce’s final event.
“I guess [the belt] is mine now, but unfortunately, Strikeforce is gone, and I’m really sad about that,” said Saffiedine. “It’s a great night for me, but it’s a sad night at the same time.”
Saffiedine wore Marquardt down over their 25 minutes of combat, continually punishing the former King of Pancrase’s quadriceps with chopping leg kicks, causing Marquardt’s thigh to swell and discolor.
“I think [I knew I had control] when he started to feel my leg kicks,” said Saffiedine. “I could see that he was hurt. He couldn’t move as much as he wanted to, and I saw that I had the fight.”
Despite entering the cage as the smaller man, Saffiedine also held his own with Marquardt in the clinch, continually stifling the favorite’s takedown attempts before finally scoring with a slam of his own to seal the judges’ verdict in the fifth round.
“When you train with Dan Henderson -- it’s hard to feel like somebody is stronger than that guy. Dan has helped me so much, and it’s kind of hard [for someone else] to put that same type of pressure [on me in the cage],” said Saffiedine. “I’ve been working so hard on my wrestling, and Nate is such a great wrestler and well-rounded fighter. It felt amazing.”