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Saffiedine shines in Strikeforce finale, secures UFC future

Photo: Mark D. Smith/ USA TODAY Sports/

A kickboxer by trade, Tarec Saffiedine controlled the main event unloading a barrage of leg kicks.

It wasn't Ted Williams slugging a homer in the last at-bat of his career. But it wasn't the wicked witch or evil stepmother meeting her demise at the gruesome conclusion of some Grimm brothers storytelling, either. As finales go, Saturday night's Strikeforce bye-bye was neither grand exit nor fairy tale death knell.

That the fight card happened at all was notable, seeing how the promotion's last two scheduled events had been canceled. Still, it was strange to see the curtain fall in Oklahoma City rather than San Jose, Calif., the promotion's home base and the site of about a third of all of its shows going back to the onetime kickboxing company's 2006 entry into mixed martial arts. But CEO Scott Coker did pay homage to the past, sitting at cageside the whole night pecking away at expressing gratitude on Twitter for those who helped build Strikeforce into something. Between tweets, he watched many of his roster's most prominent names display their stuff in showcase fights.

The evening had its moments -- some of them odd, some mundane, some exhilarating, some sentimental. There also were moments as ugly as Nate Marquardt's left thigh.

Oh, yeah, Marquardt. Oh, yeah, the main event. "Nate the Great" he wasn't on this night, as Tarec Saffiedine bruised and immobilized him with leg kicks on the way to a unanimous-decision victory to take away the Strikeforce welterweight championship.

Saffiedine (14-3) not only ensured that he'll own the belt in perpetuity but also likely secured himself a prominent place in the UFC. That's what this night was about, wasn't it? The belt will look nice hung up on a wall, but it's nowhere near as pretty as the paychecks that'll start arriving from the big-brother promotion.

Saffiedine earned himself a future by punishing Marquardt (32-11-2) for five rounds with those kicks to the lead leg, which was reddened and weakened before the fight was half over. Even when Nate still could move, though, he never seemed able to find a way inside, which resulted in him getting picked apart.

For a while, though, the fight was close. And for that alone, fans were grateful. Prior to the main event, they'd been treated to mismatch after mismatch. Daniel Cormier took longer than expected to finish off Dion Staring in the co-main event -- the end came at 4:02 of the second round, via TKO -- but that was only because the Dutchman was too tough to wither. That followed a main card trio of barely-break-a-sweat first-round stoppages -- by Josh Barnett, Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza -- that were more notable for referee failings than for fighter feats.

Actually, Cormier did make a statement. Not so much during his fight but after it. "Right now, I'm telling you, April 20 on Fox," he told the fans, who'd cheered him like the homecoming hero he was -- Daniel was an All-American wrestler for Oklahoma State and lived in the state for 10 years while training for two Olympic Games. "I signed my UFC contract. Frank Mir, you and me, let's do it."

It was unclear whether Cormier was announcing a fight or calling for one. Either way, if Mir is up for stepping in with a guy he was supposed to fight last fall before an injury forced him to pull out, it'll be a much better test for the 11-0 Cormier than what he faced on Saturday night.

But Daniel wasn't finished looking to the future. Asked if he'll eventually drop to light heavyweight and set his sights on Jon Jones' title belt since his friend and training partner Cain Velasquez is in possession of the big-boy strap, Cormier pulled no punches: "I'm going to let Jon defend his belt April 27 and I'm going to kick his ass in the fall."

How's that for simultaneously dismissing Chael Sonnen, the challenger in that April 27 light heavy title fight, and also paying homage to him with some feisty trash talk?

But the last word fittingly came from Coker, too classy to trash anyone, too sentimental to let this promotion he founded way back in 1985 pass on without a eulogy. "It's a tough thing," he said when asked about his emotions on this evening. "But you know what? I'm so happy for these guys that fought tonight. It's the pinnacle of my career. I feel like we've done some great work in mixed martial arts and martial arts fighting. And, you know, it's time."

Yes it is.

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