Ben Saunders is ready to get into a fight this weekend. More than ready, in fact. The mixed martial artist is scheduled to face off against fellow welterweight combatant Douglas Lima during the headlining bout of the nationally televised Bellator MMA event on Friday night at Grand Canyon University Arena. And it's a battle that's been more than seven months in the making.
The fighters were originally set to square off early this year in the final match of one of the renowned MMA promotion's regular tournaments. Then a few injuries suffered by Lima caused the donnybrook to be delayed. Twice. It's been a frustrating situation for Saunders, who says he's more than ready to scrap with Lima (who originally beat him when they fought back in 2011) and hopefully earn the Bellator tournament win that's eluded him.
Saunders (16-5) finally get his chance to meet Lima (24-5) in the middle of the octagon tomorrow night during Bellator 100, which (as its name indicates) is the MMA promotion's hundredth televised event and will feature 12 other fights. The rematch between Saunders and Lima, however, is being heavily promoted by Bellator, one of the top-ranked MMA organizations in the world and the main competitor of UFC, and is arguably one of the most anticipated contests on the card. And according to Saunders, who boasts the fearsome nickname "Killa B," MMA aficionados have wanted to see this particular showdown for a while.
"Fans have been waiting for this fight for quite a long time," Saunders says. "And they know what's on the line and they know what we're both going to bring to the table."
And there's a lot that's on the line. The fight is the final match in one of the regular tournaments that make up Bellator's events, helps determine its rankings, and sets it apart from other MMA promotions (such as UFC).
Besides a chance to get a hard-fought victory on national television (like many of Bellator's cards, Friday's event at GCU Arena will be broadcast on cable network Spike TV), whoever wins the fight between Saunders and Lima will be declared the winner of one of that respective tournament and nab $100,000 and a shot at current welterweight championship.
Meanwhile, bouts from the opening round of an entirely different tournament are scheduled to take place at Bellator 100 and will be just as fiercely fought as the main event. The lineup of other televised fights includes Justin Baesman (14-3) going against Brent Weedman (21-8), Ron Keslar (9-3) facing Luis Melo (29-11), and the curiously named War Machine (13-4) throwing blows versus Vaughn Anderson (16-1-1).
Saunders says he's interested in the latter contest since he's good friends with War Machine and will be watching. Well, when he isn't busy getting ready for Lima. The 30-year-old Florida resident told Jackalope Ranch during a recent phone interview about how he's been training hard for the rematch, as well as why the wait has been frustrating (particularly since he hasn't fought anyone else lately), how the desire to win a tournament is motivated him.
Where did your nickname "Killa B." come from? It comes from my teammates giving it to me from kind of a situation that occurred out here in Orlando, but it also came down from my love of hip-hop and rap and Wu-Tang Clan.
So what's your favorite Wu-Tang album? 36 Chambers, man.
How does Bellator MMA differ from UFC? Or how is it better? I wouldn't say one's better than the other. The big, defining difference would be the tournament format [in Bellator]. That was the original reason I signed up with them. The whole idea of three fights in three months was kind of bringing me back to the old school tournament days of the original UFC. And they don't have that any more. [Some] promotions don't do that no more for whatever reason. So that's what intrigued me and that's why I'm here. That's what I joined up to do.
Do you still have any bad feelings about being cut from UFC years ago? Nah, I never had bad feelings. I don't even know who stated that. The only issue they even cut me because of wrestling ability and the fact that UFC was overrun with elite wrestlers.
You mean wrestling in the MMA sense versus professional wrestling, right? Oh, yeah. They were phenomenal wrestlers in the UFC that were able to wrestle [and] take people to the ground and control them and try to work "ground and pound" for the most part. And at the time, that was the one aspect of my game that I was lacking the most.
I came from more of a traditional striking background and I was a huge fan of jiu-jitsu and working off my back so I was comfortable in both zones. And I always created my style for that reason. I'm going to keep it standing, I'm going to keep it exciting, I'm going to go for the knock out. And if they take me down, I'm going to [try to] sweep or stand back up. But again, the top elite wrestlers in the world are good at controlling on the ground and at winning the game. It's a game. There are judges and there's a time limit. So you got to be aware of the game.
So your battle with Douglas Lima this Friday at Grand Canyon University Arena an important one for you personally, correct? Yeah, it's definitely a big fight for me.
You guys are the headlining bout on the card. Yeah. But I've been there before with Bellator and it's no different to me, man. I've been in some really big shows and fought some really big names, so it's sort of just another day at the office.
Since Lima won your last battle, is there a certain amount of retribution motivating you? I'm definitely down for the whole tit-for-tat aspect [but] revenge or any of that is not necessarily there, but I'm sure he's confident and I'm motivated, so that's gonna be really where the clash is gonna be. I'm extremely motivated to get that "W" and win this damn tournament.
If you beat him, you win that particular Bellator tournament, as well as $100,000 and a shot at the current champ in your weight class, right? Yeah. Basically, if you win a Bellator tournament, you win a shot at the title. And that's kind of a question mark as far as who the [welterweight] titleholder would be or who the fight would be against, 'cause the current champ [Ben Askren] is currently a free agent. So I don't know if he's re-signing or really what the plan is with all that.
But that's down the road. That's all on Bellator's side. I'm focused on winning this, so I'm not really paying attention [to] so much of the "what ifs" and "could'ves" of what Ben Askren plans on doing with his career, and I don't really know what Bellator's stance is on if he does or does not choose to stay.
Are you pressuring yourself to beat Lima and win a Bellator tournament? Not pressure, man. I mean, whatever happens, happens, but there's a big difference between pressure and motivation. I just got a lot of motivation going for it, man.
Your fight with Lima has been delayed several months due to injury. Has it been frustrating or has it given you extra time to train? I'd say more frustrating than anything, but I've used my time wisely. So I'm coming into this fight very, very well prepared. I didn't need the time. In fact, it was seven months of me being completely healthy that I was kind of benched. And considering that this is all I do for a living, that kind of screwed up damn near a lot of time for finances. But I plan on coming out there and I plan on winning. So it will all be worth it.
How have you been using your time wisely? Just to train, man, just to get better and improve. You've got to understand; seven months...that's a long time. Nobody trains seven months for one fight. That's a ridiculous [timespan]. So it was definitely planning for Lima himself, but just overall, improving my skills.
I've been [ready] for a year now and I've never in my life had to focus and put my whole life on hold for this long. This is the most hardcore thing I've ever done for sure. And I'm pretty sure it's gonna be the last time this kind of thing happens. There's no way a tournament should ever go this long.
You haven't fought for seven months straight? Yeah, exactly. When [Lima] broke his hand, I was like, "Yo, I've broke my hand in the past so I know exactly what's up. It's going to take a minimum of a few months to heal and then two months for training camp, so we're talking five months. I'm in shape, I'm ready to go, get me a fight. Let me do something to make some money on the side." But they didn't want that, I guess. So I kind of waited. Then I was supposed to fight July 31.
And then he had another injury, the rib injury, or whatever's happened to him. And they postponed it again. It was supposed to be September 7. And then they were like, "Hey, you could fight July 31." And I felt like that just wasn't smart. I'm here for the tournament. Me fighting a month before I have to fight Lima, how's that fair? I could go out there, kick the dude in the face, knock him out in the first round, but sprain or break my foot, and then what? What's the point?
How much have you watched your first fight with Lima or relived that loss? Oh, I've definitely watched a few times. In all honesty, I thought I won the first round and I thought I was winning the second round. And he capitalized on some lack of focus and mistakes that I made jumping in, not having my feet up under me, and trying to go for the big Hail Mary knockout punch. And he came in with his own and he connected. And then he did a good job of finishing the job and getting the ref to jump in.
But at the end of the day, a fight's a fight. I respect the man for the skills that he has and I assume he respects me for what I'm capable of. If he thinks he's going to steamroll through me or anything like that, my plan is to go out there and prove him wrong. But he's very intelligent from what I've seen and from speaking with him. And obviously, I know his camp and who he trains with and they're very intelligent people too. I don't think for one second that they're going to think it's going to be an easy fight by any means.
Does Lima have the edge because he won your first encounter? It doesn't matter that he won that fight. I think we both know what we're both capable of. We're both very dangerous and we're both some of the best in the world at our weight class, no doubt. We could beat anybody in the world, I believe wholeheartedly, on any given night. But on that night, like I said, I'm going to maintain my focus and I'm very motivated to go out there and win. He got his tournament [win] last time and this is my third time and I have no ambition of losing.
Do you plan to possibly exploit his rib injury during your fight? I don't even know what his [exact] injury was. It could've been his ribs, but who knows where that rib is. I can't really look at that. And the injury prior to that was with his hand, but [after] seven months, there's no way that hand is still an issue. In my opinion, I'm hoping for the best Lima possible because I don't want any excuses once I beat him.
Have you read any of the predictions have made online, or does those not not matter to you? Nah, I don't ever pay attention to that stuff, but knowing...are you talking betting odds or whatever?
Or predictions from Bellator fans or MMA writers. I mean, at the end of the day, really, the only thing I've heard of is from fans, and we're both fan favorites. So it's kind of like, "I don't want either of them to lose but its going to be a great fight." And then there's people who I think it's going to happen the same way, Douglas Lima's going to do it again. And then there's other people being like, "Killa B's got it this time." I don't know. I'd say it's pretty even right now. It's people that don't want either of us to lose or people that are picking him or me.
There are definitely people picking Lima to win. Good for them. I'm going to fucking destroy all that. Honestly, the fans, they just want to see a good scrap and at the end of the day. Who wouldn't? If you don't know anything about anybody, pick the man who won it the first time.
But it's going to be an epic fight nonetheless. Yeah. For sure, man. I know I'm bringing it.
Are there any other fights on Friday's card at GCU that you're going to be paying close attention to besides your own? Yeah, my boy War Machine [a.k.a. Jonathan Koppenhaver] is gonna be fighting on the same card. We were on The Ultimate Fighter 6 together. He was my teammate on the show and we've been friends every since. And I'm definitely rooting for him [against Vaughn Anderson]. I'm hoping he goes out there and puts on a show and gets that W, because, if you don't know who he is, he's had a rock couple of years, in and out of jail. I know he's got his life together now and I'm just really happy for him and hoping he can take this MMA and go big with it.
How do you think he's going to do against Vaughn Anderson? I don't know anything about his opponent. I know War is very well-rounded. He's good everywhere and he's very game and scrappy. He's gonna come and he's gonna bring it. If his opponent's not ready, he's definitely going to be in some trouble. But if he's a game opponent, I'm sure the fans are just going to get an awesome show.
Bellator 100 takes place at 4 p.m. on Friday, September 20, at Grand Canyon University Arena. Tickets are $25 to $100.