The debacle that was Zuffa-owned Strikeforce finally ended last night and we were all waiting to see how the promotion would go out. It could go out with a bang as the WEC did with it's Benson Henderson versus Anthony Pettis title bout, or with a whimper as PRIDE did with it's final bout, Jeff Monson versus Kazayuki Fujita. Strikeforce's final night was something in the middle as most of it's established stars met relative unknowns in an attempt to spread star power throughout the card and give some entertaining and memorable finishes. What we got was Josh Barnett choking yet another lower tier heavyweight from mount, Jacare out striking and submitting Ed Herman in spite of referee incompetence, and Daniel Cormier struggling with the morality of throwing full power punches at the turtled Dion Staring.
There were spots of excitement throughout however and the performance given by Tarec Saffiedine against Nate Marquardt was a masterclass in taking a mile when given an inch. Marquardt's striking on the outside has always been relatively sloppy (something which we explored in my only other piece on him) but he hits very hard and if he can land a blow to stun his opponent he is perhaps the most dynamic finisher in MMA. Marquardt's flurries on Tyron Woodley and Wilson Gouveia are some of the most memorable in our sport's history but out in the centre of the cage he is a fish out of water.
Marquardt's movement let him down against Tyron Woodley as he kept letting the southpaw Woodley get his lead foot to the outside - stopping the opponent from doing this is southpaw fighting 101 - and Marquardt's footwork let him down again last night. Marquardt carries his head so far forward that it is both an easy target and prevents him from retreating or lifting his lead leg to check kicks.
Notice how heavy Marquardt is on his front leg. To effectively check a kick he must move his weight off of that leg, slowing his checks down to the point where he couldn't use them.
In the early going of the bout it was easy to catch Marquardt because he seemed to believe that he was quick footed. Every time Marquardt jumped in with punches, he would then attempt to exit by backing straight up - and that is when Saffiedine would throw a kick of middling force to the same spot on Marquardt's leg. When an opponent is backing up his front leg is carrying little weight and it may be punted across his body without difficulty.
Here Marquardt attacks with a right kick that goes low, then a right punch, but as he is backing up he eats a hard right low kick.
Marquardt jabs and is kicked as he withdraws his lead foot.
Marquardt's face led style of closing the distance was punished early as Saffiedine nailed Marquardt with a hard jab while retreating. In the past week or so I have been ranting about how the tendency to throw powerless jabs from any position in MMA has hurt fighters such as Michael Bisping, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, but for every dozen poorly thought out jabs while on the retreat someone throws a good one like Saffiedine's. Of course it matched up perfectly with Marquardt's over aggressive style - punching on the retreat with any force against a cautious or tentative opponent is almost impossible because their forward movement is what provides the force of the collision.
Marquardt charges Saffiedine with his head out in front of his body, running on to Saffeidine's jab. At the risk of committing a Mike Goldbergism, it was reminiscent of Forrest Griffin's charge into Anderson Silva's fist.
Throughout the fight Marquardt refused to check kicks - often because his lead foot was weighted by his head being so far forward of his waist, but also because his lead toes were often pointed in to make his stance longer - and while this aids the boxing arsenal it actively takes away kickboxing maneuvers such as checking low kicks.
By the 4th and 5th rounds, Saffiedine was simply walking Marquardt down in an upright stance with his chin tucked and using a double forearms guard to catch Marquardt's swings. The act of "covering up" is something which is usually discouraged in MMA because the small gloves make it easy to slip blows through, but Saffiedine seemed completely untroubled by Marquardt's blows. Every time Marquardt finished a combination of two or three punches, Saffiedine would land a hard low kick as Marquardt attempted to back away, occasionally mixing in some nice straights to the head which hurt Marquardt more than his more powerful, inaccurate blows looked to hurt Saffiedine.
Saffiedine uses his forearms to catch Marquardt's blows, then kicks back when the punches stop. This was Saffiedine's tactic throughout the entire 4th and 5th rounds.
By the end of the bout Marquardt was limping and consistent, accurate, well timed blows had carried the day against a bigger, stronger, more explosive puncher.
As something of a bonus we were allowed to see Gegard Mousasi fight for the first time since December of 2011. Mousasi is a very hit and miss fighter - sometimes looking like a world beater and sometimes looking out of sorts. There are several theories around this but the most likely reasons are firstly that Mousasi's stand up is based around adaptation at timing. We've seen Mousasi fight from an upright stance as he did against Sokoudjou and Kyotaro and we've seen him fight out of a crouch as he did against Mike Kyle. There was not much interesting to note about Mousasi's performance against Kyle except for his peculiar choice to fight out of a crouch and his seemingly slowed reactions.
Mousasi's usual hunch turned into a full crouch against Mike Kyle.
Ultimately Mousasi is a fighter who benefits from activity - just as the young Mike Tyson was kept on a far more active schedule than any other heavyweight, Mousasi's incredible run from 2005 - 2009 was in no small part due to the fact that he was fighting between four and six times a year. With injury and collapsing cards preventing Mousasi from keeping his regular activity in the cage, hopefully the death of Strikeforce will allow Mousasi to move to the UFC and fight regularly against good opposition. If Mousasi can fight regularly and prove that his injury has not ruined him it is entirely possible that he could live up to the potential he is so often touted as having and become the finest fighter in the world.