There are two certainties in the UFC's 170-pound class entering 2014: Things are open for business as they haven't been in a decade, and Tarec Saffiedine is a guy who could easily emerge as a top contender.
In his showdown with replacement talent Hyun Gyu Lim at UFC Fight Night 34, a fight that showed there's value on the Internet beyond Bleacher Report and things marked with XXX indicators, the Belgian brawler showed as much. He dissected his mark with startling force, and though he endured the occasional scare, it's clear that he's arrived in the world's top promotion.
Saffiedine, known as "Sponge" for his capacity to soak up knowledge from within the confines of Team Quest, was the final Strikeforce welterweight champion and a man many wondered about when that promotion was absorbed last year.
Was he legit?
Could he compete with the top talents?
Would he be a man to fear in the UFC?
The answer to each question is "yes," and it has been since before the Lim fight, but his turn on Singaporean soil only cemented it.
Where do you rank Tarec Saffiedine?
With a year's worth of ring rust and a fight on the other side of the planet against a man-mountain who was sprung on him halfway through training camp, he produced a masterful effort.
Saffiedine, blessed with hacking leg kicks the likes of which aren't often seen in the sport, utilized his greatest weapon to utterly obliterate his opponent. Scoring multiple leg-kick knockdowns in a fight is almost unheard of, and by the time it was all over, Lim was moving around like a geezer whose walker had been snatched by an evil orderly.
Ignorant of the fact that he didn't land a finish when perhaps he could have—the type of in-cage sense that may be dulled with a year of nothing but rehab and sparring to keep it fresh—it was exactly what you'd want from a man giving away size and strength but holding an advantage in speed and skill.
He went in with a logical, sensible game plan, and he worked it until his opponent was exhausted and broken. In terms of a UFC debut, it was as stellar as one could ask for.
So it's on to the next challenge now. That could easily be Jake Ellenberger, the man who was initially supposed to engage Saffiedine in Singapore, and a man who might well struggle with being thumped in the thighs for 15-25 minutes of combat. With a win there, which is beyond viable, Sponge could be looking at a top-three opponent before the year is out.
When he arrived in the UFC, Tarec Saffidiene came brandishing the belt from an organization that had an underrated welterweight roster. Nick Diaz had held it once, and names like Paul Daley, Tyron Woodley, and Nate Marquardt all fancied the chance to hold it at various points in the promotion.
If that wasn't enough to make you a believer, his destruction of Lim this past weekend—both in general, and considering the circumstances—should have been.