Being the last-ever Strikeforce welterweight champion heading to the UFC is an honor for Tarec Saffiedine, but it also puts a rather large target on his back.
Saffiedine defeated former UFC middleweight contender Nate Marquardt at the final Strikeforce show to win the belt and solidify his spot on the UFC's welterweight roster. In doing so, however, he not only popped into the top-10 rankings, but now the rest of the contenders in the division are gunning for him on day one in the UFC.
"I'm glad, I'm happy, and that's what I'm looking for—big challenges and tough fights in the UFC. That's what I'm looking for," Saffiedine told Bleacher Report on Wednesday.
One name that popped up most recently was former middleweight title challenger Demian Maia, who has been nothing short of dominant since dropping down to 170 lbs last year. Maia most recently dispatched Jon Fitch and now has his sights set on Saffiedine as a potential opponent.
It was revealed during UFC Tonight on Tuesday that Maia's manager has requested a fight with Saffiedine for the Brazilian's next fight. While Saffiedine didn't personally hear the message, he has no problem responding.
"I heard his manager was interested in the fight. As far as my part, I don't know. I would definitely love to fight the top guys in the UFC, and he's one of the top. If everything works out, why not? I don't see any problem. I want to also make sure I get a first, exciting fight for the fans. You want to fight the right for you coming into the UFC, but you also want to make sure you put on an exciting fight for the fans. So everything has to work out for everybody," said Saffiedine.
"So if everything works out, why not?"
Since his win over Marquardt, Saffiedine did manage to take some much-needed time off, but he's already back in the gym, awaiting word on his next fight. He admits he didn't get a chance to see Maia's last performance over Fitch, but he did hear some of the criticism from fans that it wasn't the most exciting bout on the card.
Exciting or boring, Saffiedine doesn't really care what his last fight looked like. If he faces Maia in the UFC, he wants the fans to be happy they paid to see it.
"To be honest I didn't watch Jon Fitch and Demian Maia fight. I know he took him down non-stop, took his back, so I understand the fact that the fans didn't really enjoy watching the fight, but he's a dangerous opponent. He can take you down and wear you out. I think I want to make a big coming-out party in the UFC and reach the fans on that fight," said Saffiedine.
If Saffiedine vs. Maia gets booked, the former Strikeforce champion would like the time to prepare for the matchup with an adequate training camp. That would likely put any potential fight at a late-spring, early-summer timeline for the Team Quest fighter.
"I'm healthy right now and usually l would like to have eight weeks (to train) or a little bit more if it's five five-minute rounds. So I think end of April, beginning of May would be a good time for me. I'm already back at the gym for a couple of weeks. I'm training and I'm 100-percent healthy," said Saffiedine.
If Saffiedine can beat Marquardt and a fighter the caliber of Demain Maia in back-to-back fights, there's no denying he would jump into the deep end of title conversation in the UFC. The Belgium-born fighter isn't ready to go that far just yet.
Saffiedine wants to book his first fight and actually compete in the Octagon and then he'll worry about top-10 spots and title shots.
"I think after one or two fights we can talk about it," said Saffiedine. "Right now my main focus is getting my first fight for the UFC, put on an exciting fight and then we'll see from there. I don't like to think ahead too much. Of course, down the road it's everybody's dream, everybody's goal to reach that belt.
"That's a long-term goal, but I've got to stay focused on my next fight and then we can talk again."
Damon Martin is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.