Saturday, July 30 will mark one of the Strikeforce organization’s biggest cards to date. Supported by the high drawing Women’s Welterweight Championship bout between incumbent Marloes Coenen (17-4) and “Takedown” Miesha Tate (11-2) and Strikeforce superstars “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler (18-7-1), Tim Kennedy (14-3), “Semtex” Paul Daley (24-11-2), and “T-Wood” Tyron Woodley (10-0), the main event between controversial former king of the heavyweight division, “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-3) and former PRIDE multi-divisional champion and Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion “Hendo” Dan Henderson (27-8) is a fight that has the hearts of MMA fans everywhere astir. However, before the big names take the stage, two men who have quietly toiled away putting on “Fight of the Night” performances will open the card. “Hands of Steel” Scott Smith (16-8) has never been in a boring fight – win, lose, or draw he always brings a certain dramatic element to the cage with his memorable brawls. His opponent Tarec Saffiedine (10-2) has put on world-class performances on the international stage and has finally landed himself on the big show after a three-fight stint in the Strikeforce Challengers Series. Now the two are set to collide and while the casual fans may not remember the names, they are certain to remember the fight.
At First Glance: This bout is unusual in the fact that it is far more important for each fighter than even they may know. For Tarec, an exceptionally well-rounded fighter with experience in every individual aspect of the sport, he has battled long and hard to make the big show and a second straight loss at this point would surely land him back on the Challengers cards. Smith is fighting for something much less concrete but much more damning. He will always have a slot on the Strikeforce main card – his ability to make any fight edge-of-your-seat exciting ensures this – but he is now 3-2 in the organization and another loss will make it difficult to justify his place in the title picture. In fact, with a total 7-8 record in the Zuffa promotions, Smith’s future as a title contender with MMA’s premier organizations is almost a pipe dream. If he loses this fight, it likely isn’t even that. These two men have a lot to lose and they know it and that means they will fight tooth and nail to take home a win.
In Depth: Both Smith and Saffiedine started their combat sports journey with a focus on the feet. Smith entered the International Fighting Championship (IFC) and Gladiator Challenge with a five-fight win streak including three KOs. Saffiedine opened his love affair with the martial arts with a black belt in Shihaishin Kai Karate and a 12-1-1 kickboxing record. Both men also worked hard to round out their games and the success was evident when Saffiedine compiled five submissions in his first ten MMA bouts and Smith picked up a trio of submissions himself. Tarec is however the far more well-round fighter with a much more developed grappling skill set and a more refined striking game. Smith has made his mark on the MMA world by dragging fighters into heavy-handed brawls where his resilience and power can carry him to victory. The drop to welterweight has added to this style by giving him an advantage in size. The issue, however, lies in the instances where Smith crosses swords with a more disciplined striker or a dedicated grappler who refuses to play his game. Despite winning the first bout, Cung Le (7-1) totally dominated Smith in both of their match-ups simply by sitting back out of the pocket and fighting Smith at range with a disciplined and conservative approach. Paul Daley did much the same by waiting for Smith to overcommit before collapsing the pocket to get the KO. Against those who focus solely on taking the fight to the mat, “Hands of Steel” is 0-3 with a trio of quick submission loses. Saffiedine represents a double threat to Smith by that same reasoning. He is both a far superior grappler and a disciplined kickboxer who won’t let Smith drag him into a slugger’s war. For Smith this will make for a long, if exciting, night as Saffiedine avoids his heavy hands and works him over before ending the fight with a tight choke.
Wild Card: Smith is tougher than an iron coffin nail. He is also a much larger man than his opponent. Smith fought the majority of his career at middleweight, a weight that is close to where Tarec walks around at. He is also a full three inches taller with a significant reach advantage. This means that even when Saffiedine is fighting at range, he will sit dangerously close to the pocket where Smith can end the fight at anytime, even in the extremely rare event that he actually manages to stagger the titanium-jawed Saffiedine. Should Smith’s extra weight and strength prove too much for Saffiedine to get to the mat, Smith will likely land and land hard before the fight ends.
The Verdict: This match, like its implications, goes much deeper than just the surface analysis. From a purely technical standpoint, Smith is toast. Saffiedine has displayed all the tools needed to completely dismantle Scott Smith, however, in the end, it will likely be Smith’s size and power that wins out. He is tough enough to weather any storm Tarec can produce and will eventually catch the young prospect with a late fight-ending punch much as he did with Cung Le in their first meeting. Smith via KO, Round 3