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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The final fight in Strikeforce history produced a surprising victor as Tarec Saffiedine upset Nate Marquardt for the welterweight title Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Headlining the final event for a promotion that became involved with MMA in 2006, Saffiedine relied on a game plan of steady leg kicks to dethrone the defending champion. All three judges scored it in his favor: 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46.
"It's unbelievable," Saffiedine said. "I can't imagine I'm wearing the belt right now. I want to thank Strikeforce for being by my side for so long."
While not one of the biggest names of the Strikeforce brand, Saffiedine (14-3) has enjoyed plenty of success since signing with the promotion in 2010. He finishes with an overall record of 7-1, the only loss coming via decision to Tyron Woodley.
The win over Marquardt will not be remembered as one of the most action-packed of the year, but it demonstrated a well-rounded skill set by Saffiedine and a strong commitment to what turned out to be a very effective game plan.
|Tarec Saffiedine's leg kicks found a home on Nate Marquardt's lead thigh.|
Saffiedine went to work by attacking the lead leg of Marquardt (32-11-2) early in the fight with low kicks. Operating as the smaller fighter in the cage, his elusiveness and head movement proved to be a problem for Marquardt, who had trouble getting in any sort of rhythm.
Looking to push the pace, Marquardt was stunned in the first round by a counter jab.
The fourth round proved to be Saffiedine's best. He cut Marquardt on the bridge of his nose, and Marquardt was by then having trouble generating power off his battered lead leg.
The welterweight title fight was the only fight featured on the Strikeforce main card to go the distance. CEO Scott Coker gave a final few words on the telecast, saying it "was time" for the promotion to close.
"It's a tough thing, but I'm so happy for these guys who fought tonight," Coker said. "This is the pinnacle of my career. I think we did some great work in mixed martial arts. It's time."
Daniel Cormier took care of business against Dion Staring. Now, his sights are set on bigger things.
The unbeaten heavyweight dominated Staring en route to a second-round TKO victory.
|UFC-certified: Daniel Cormier ended his Strikeforce career by bludgeoning Dion Staring.|
In a post-fight interview, Cormier confirmed he had signed a UFC deal and mentioned that he was set on fighting Frank Mir at a UFC on Fox event on April 20 in San Jose, Calif. During the ensuing news conference, however, Cormier said he was only stating his hopes and not announcing an official bout.
"In my ideal universe that's what would happen," Cormier told ESPN.com. "But it could not happen. If it doesn't, I'll just keep plugging away."
Cormier, who also intends to move to light heavyweight and face champion Jon Jones in 2013, said he doesn't see any roadblocks that would prevent the Mir fight. The two were originally scheduled to fight at a Strikeforce event on Nov. 3, but Mir was forced to withdraw with a knee injury.
"Most of the other [heavyweights] are tied up," Cormier said. "Everybody else is pretty much scheduled in the division. Why not? We were supposed to fight already. It's a good fight. I think people would watch it and we can sell that fight."
If a fight with Mir were to fail to materialize, Cormier said his first bout in the UFC would still be as a heavyweight.
Cormier's final fight in the Strikeforce cage wasn't much of one. Staring came out of the gate loading up on the right hand, but he would have few chances to use it. Cormier, a former Olympic wrestler, took him down at will throughout the fight.
Staring worked to his feet on several occasions, but much like his teammate and UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Cormier refused to give him breathing room. He transitioned to a crucifix position in the first round and then full mount.
The end came mercifully at the 4:02 mark of the second round, when referee John McCarthy had seen enough ground strikes to a turtled up Staring. Despite his looking to move forward in the beginning of the frame, it was clear Staring was tired by Cormier's early pace and was an easy target in the final four minutes.
Cormier (11-0) has been nothing short of spectacular since his pro debut in 2009. He won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix despite entering the competition as an alternate. He holds notable wins over Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva. Staring (28-8) sees a six-fight win streak snapped.
Josh Barnett barely broke a sweat in his Strikeforce curtain call.
|Josh Barnett, top, executed his game plan to perfection by mauling and eventually submitting Nandor Guelmino.|
The veteran heavyweight's postfight speech might have lasted longer than his fight, as he needed just 2:11 to lock in an arm triangle against a highly overmatched Nandor Guelmino.
Barnett wouldn't speculate on whether the win might earn him a return to the UFC but did warn other heavyweights that he would "find them." He also confirmed rumors he had battled the flu during preparations for the fight.
"It would've gone a lot better if I hadn't been so sick," Barnett said. "I've been bitten by every bug in the world over the last week. I had the flu on Friday and then a wisdom tooth infection. If I was at 100 percent, it [would have been] even shorter."
The contest went as many expected it would. Barnett bull rushed Guelmino from the opening bell, pushing him back to the fence and securing his first takedown less than 20 seconds in.
Guelmino would briefly work back to his feet, only to be taken down again. It soon became clear Barnett could end the fight however he wanted. He chose the arm triangle, which Guelmino immediately tapped to.
Barnett (32-6) finishes with an overall 3-1 Strikeforce record. He was favored to win the Heavyweight Grand Prix last May but dropped a unanimous decision to Daniel Cormier in the finals. Guelmino (11-4) sees a seven-fight win streak snapped.
Gegard Mousasi showed no evidence of ring rust in a fairly one-sided submission victory over Mike Kyle.
|A hyper-aggressive Gegard Mousasi was all over Mike Kyle from the opening bell.|
After spending all of 2012 on the sidelines with an ACL injury, Mousasi looked terrific in his return. The former Strikeforce champion scored an early takedown and calmly went about passing Kyle's guard.
With about two minutes left in the round, Mousasi transitioned into full mount and started landing punches at will. Kyle eventually gave up his back, which led to the finish, a rear-naked choke at the 4:09 mark.
"There was a lot of pressure on me coming into this fight," Mousasi said. "I had injuries, and coming off a one-year layoff, this means a lot."
It's a statement win for Mousasi (33-3-2) as he transitions now into the UFC roster. The 27-year-old's only loss in the past six years came via unanimous decision to Muhammed Lawal in 2010. Since then, he has demonstrated an improved wrestling game in recent wins over Kyle (19-9-1) and Ovince St. Preux.
If his performance Saturday serves as any indication, Ronaldo Souza is going to do just fine in the UFC.
Souza dominated UFC veteran Ed Herman in his Strikeforce finale, tapping him out via kimura at the 3:10 mark of the first round. It was the middleweight's second consecutive first-round finish.
|As soon as the fight hit the ground, it was only a matter of time before Ronaldo Souza ended matters.|
"I've been training so hard and evolving with each victory," Souza said. "Every time I fight, I get even more motivation to go back and get better.
"Ed Herman is very durable. I hit him with a hard elbow and he didn't buckle so I decided to open up and invite him in. I was waiting for him to make mistakes that I could capitalize on."
The Brazilian managed to show off multiple aspects of his game, even in a short fight. He tagged Herman with a solid overhand right in the first minute and followed with a takedown.
Fighting off his back, Herman landed an illegal upkick that prompted referee Mark Carter to stop the action. In a somewhat bizarre moment, Carter not only refrained from docking Herman a point, but also allowed him to stay on his feet for the restart.
It wouldn't have an effect on the outcome, though. Souza quickly engaged and, after landing a front kick and another right hand, slammed Herman back to the floor and quickly moved into the submission attempt.
Souza (17-3) will enter the UFC on a three-fight win streak. The former middleweight champion's only loss in Strikeforce came via decision to Luke Rockhold.
Herman (20-9) fails to rebound from a disappointing performance against Jake Shields at UFC 150. The Colorado-based fighter lost a unanimous decision to Shields; however, that result was later changed to a no-contest after Shields tested positive for a banned substance.