Ben Saunders continued his post-UFC surge Saturday, running his Bellator record to 3-0 with a third-round submission win that puts him in the promotion's 170-pound tourney finals.
What stuck out was how Saunders (12-3-2) picked up the victory: keylock submission. It was the 28-year-old's first non-strikes submission win since August 2008: a streak of eight fights. While opponent Luis Ramos has a BJJ black belt, half of his 50 wins came via T/KO. Instead of engaging in a bloody 15-minute slugfest, Saunders changed up his game and it worked.
Evolution of a mixed martial artist? Great game planning? Right opponent, right time, right place? Lesser competition? Whatever it is, Saunders is taking full advantage of his Bellator opportunity and finds himself one win away from a shot at either current champ Ben Askren or his October 29th challenger Jay Hieron.
"Killa" stuff, indeed.
To get that title shot, Saunders will have to get through another Brazilian in Douglas Lima, who punched his ticket to the finals with a second round KO of Chris Lozano.
Lima (20-4) will take an eight-fight win streak into the Saunders fight, expected for November 12 at Bellator 57. During his run, Lima has three submission wins and two by T/KO, fueling a career 85% finish percentage.
Lima didn't take any major damage and battered a tough Lozano Saturday, opening up a nasty cut under his left eye. The end came with Lima connecting on a straight right hand that had crumpled up Lozano, knocking him out before he hit the canvas.
Both Lima and Saunders men should enter the finals relatively healthy and will have five weeks of preparation time if the November 12 date holds.
Of Triangles And Arm Collectors
Thanks to a few quick fights, viewers were treated to six bouts Saturday, giving two fighters an opportunity to introduce themselves to a national audience with impressive undercard performances.
Of note was young David Rickels who pushed his record to 8-0 with a second round submission win over a bloody Levi Avera -- his third consecutive victory by triangle choke and fifth overall.
He has yet to compete in a Bellator tournament, but it will be hard to deny the Kansas native a slot in 2012. What's great is how they've brought younger unknown talents like this along: slowly against comparable competition. This is the second time the 22-year-old welterweight has seen air time and if he keeps winning like this, it won't be the last.
Then there was Giva Santana, a man with a reputation of being a bit obsessed with armbars as 12 of his 16 wins had come via that form of submission going into his Bellator debut. Make that 13 of 17 as he made Darryl Cobb tap via first round armbar, a fitting way to introduce himself to a national audience. The 185-pounder has now won six in a row and made his case to be one of the eight included in next year's 185-pound tournament.
Bellator and MTV2 deserve a tip of the cap for smartly using their full two hours to getting Rickels and Santana some airtime with great performances.
Ronnie Mann rebounded from a loss to Pat Curran with a quick submission win over Kenny Foster…The promotion announced that heavyweight Mike Hayes is appealing a 60-day medical suspension that would eliminate him from the tourney semifinals. In a reserve bout, Thiago Santos submitted Josh Burns and will get the slot if Hayes cannot fight…Nine of the event's 10 fights ended in a finish.
The Week Ahead
Saturday's Bellator 54 won't have Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler but Bantamweight Champion Zach Makovsky returns in a non-title bout against Ryan Roberts. Since winning the gold a year ago, Makovsky (13-2) has only competed once in another non-title defense.
Bryan Baker vs. Vitor Vianna and Alexander Shlemenko vs. Brian Rogers compete in the middleweight semifinals as Rene Nazare vs. Jacob Kirwan round out the main card. The undercard features Daniel Gracie (5-3-1) looking for his first Bellator victory.