This, the twelfth in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, features UFC welterweight Tarec Saffiedine. Saffiedine recently fought at the Strikeforce finale, and upset welterweight champion Nate Marquardt in the main event. The final Strikeforce welterweight champion, Saffiedine is now part of the UFC’s talented roster of welterweights, and he eagerly awaits his first matchup.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts and at what point did it become more than just a hobby?
Tarec Saffiedine: My very first experience was when I was three. I did Judo, but I hated it. I used to watch Bruce Lee, and read manga about MMA, so I wanted to train and learn martial arts. My father did Tae Kwon Do, so I tried it out and liked it, but I really wanted to learn MMA. That’s when I discovered, from a friend, Shihaishinkai Karate, which is similar to MMA. I used to travel a lot for tournaments, training, and fights, and I realized that if I wanted to make MMA my career, I would have to leave Belgium and go to the USA. So after I graduated from high school, and had my first pro MMA fight, I decided to take a chance.
JB: Your first professional MMA fight was in Belgium, back in 2007, and you won via Kimura. What do you recall about your MMA debut?
TS: I remember I was nervous, but at the same time I couldn’t wait to be in the ring for my first pro fight. I knocked him down with a knee to the liver, and finished up with a Kimura. It was a great feeling to get my first win.
JB: Growing up in Belgium, how did you view the United States, and now that you've been living here in the USA, how would you say it compares to Belgium?
TS: The USA, for any European, is the dream, especially California. LOL. So when I had the chance to train at Team Quest in Cali, it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. Besides the great weather, the lifestyle MMA offers me is unbelievable. I have the chance to do what I love on a daily basis and I never feel like I’m working. I wouldn’t have been able to do that in Belgium.
JB: You currently train with the legendary Team Quest in Temecula, California. How did you get involved with the team and who there has helped you in your development?
TS: Basically I wanted to train in the USA and see how it would go. I had a couple wins, but I wasn’t famous or anything like that, even in Belgium. So I emailed a lot of gyms and asked if I could train with their pro team. Some didn’t reply and some replied that I couldn’t train with their pros, which I understood. Then Heath Sims from Team Quest responded to me and told me I was welcome to come and train with the team. I jumped on a plane and came to train. I really enjoyed the training and the team. It was a whole other level, and I was getting my butt kicked every day, but I was learning a lot and I really liked it. Ryan Parsons, Heath Sims, and Dan Henderson were the main guys at that time and they helped me out a lot. Sokoudjou also helped me out a lot and allowed me stay at his place for a while. Dan is my mentor. He helped me out a lot with training and making decisions about my career. I owe him a lot for that.
JB: You had seven fights in Strikeforce. How would you characterize your time with the promotion and how did you react when Zuffa purchased Strikeforce?
TS: I really enjoyed fighting for Strikeforce. It was the biggest part of my career, and it helped me grow a lot. The downside was just that we didn’t fight as much as we wanted to. The purchase didn’t really affect me much. I never felt a big difference.
JB: You are a remarkable 14-3, with your all 3 of your losses coming via decisions. Prior to your most recent win at the Strikeforce finale, which professional fight do you feel was your best performance and why?
TS: I really like my fight against Scott Smith. I think I showed a lot about my fighting style in that fight. And of course my win over Nate Marquardt was my biggest accomplishment so far. I used to watch Nate when I started fighting and never thought I would fight him one day. It was an honor fighting him, winning the belt, and being the last champion is really rewarding.
JB: Your recent win over Nate Marquardt, to claim the final Strikeforce welterweight championship, was a decisive upset victory. What did that win mean to you and how has it changed your life?
TS: It meant a lot to me. It was my goal going into Strikeforce - to be able to fight for the belt and to win it. It also meant a lot because I wanted to be the first Belgian to ever win a world championship title in a major MMA organization. And it was really important because a lot of people back home were supporting me. To be honest, nothing has really changed for me on my daily basis, besides having more media attention. I still have to clean the dishes and put out the garbage when my wife asks me. LOL.
JB: Now that you are a part of the UFC, what potential matchups interest you and where in the world would you be most excited to fight in a UFC event?
TS: Anybody near the top. The best fighters are in the UFC, and I came to the USA to train and face the best, and that’s what I’m looking for. I really enjoy fighting in the USA and I would love to fight somewhere in Europe. Since there isn’t an event in Belgium yet, any other place in Europe would be great.
JB: You obviously have a promising fighting career ahead of you, but what outside of fighting interests you and what plans or goals do you have for the future?
TS: I never really think about the future, because when I do, I think about my career and not really what might happen next. I have my wife and son that I like to spend time with. My family and career are my priorities right now. We will see after that.
JB: Last question, Tarec, and thank you so much for doing this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
TS: I have been fighting since I was fifteen, and I enjoy fighting now as much as when I first started. It is really what makes me happy, and I try to enjoy every moment of this lifestyle right now. The only difference from before is that I am able to do it full-time now. So I enjoy it even more.
“This is the official website of the Mixed Martial Arts llc. Commercial
reproduction, distribution or transmission of any part or parts of this website
or any information contained therein by any means whatsoever without the prior
written permission is not permitted.”