This Saturday night marks a new chapter in the career of former UFC welterweight turned Bellator signee Ben Saunders. The American Top Team product is a dangerous striker whose brutal knockouts of Marcus Davis and Brandon Wolff made his rep with fans. I recently caught up with Saunders and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he talked about his upcoming fight with Matt Lee and how the Bellator signing came about.
"Bellator saw my potential and my fan base and they seemed excited to get me on their roster," Saunders stated. "I originally thought I was going to be involved in this year's welterweight tournament but I'm going to do two showcase fights and then they want to have me involved in the fall tournament. So far everything has been ridiculously professional and it's been a great experience. I had the privilege of cornering one of my teammates at one of their events in Florida a couple of months ago and everything is great there. If you aren't going to be with the UFC man, Bellator is the best spot."
While the Chicago based promotion may not be the largest organization in the sport they have quickly established a reputation for putting on exciting fights and have accrued an impressive reel of highlight worthy finishes which is something Saunders certainly feels he can add to.
"I absolutely plan on taking that reputation up a notch," Saunders exclaimed. "I think Bellator's welterweight division is their most stacked weight class they currently have going. The list of talent is pretty phenomenal and I can't wait to test myself against them all. I'm training hard, working on turning my weaknesses into my strengths and loving what I do. I'm now with Bellator and I believe I have some new skills and talents to bring since the last time people were able to see me fight. It's a year since the Fitch fight, which was my last televised bout and I look forward to showing everyone my improvements."
In addition to signing names like Saunders, Hieron and McCullough, Bellator also bolstered their profile by crafting a broadcasting deal with MTV2. The fights air every Saturday night and the exposure that comes with fighting on the network was definitely something Saunders found appealing.
"I'm really excited about fighting on MTV2," Saunders replied. "At the end of the day I train my ass off to perform to the best of my abilities and when I get the opportunity to finally showcase it on a live televised card for the nation, and sometimes the world to see...it makes it all just that much better."
The first order of business for Ben Saunders comes this Saturday night as he squares off with MMA veteran Matt Lee. While Saunders may carry the bigger name he is not looking past a fighter he knows will be coming into the cage with bad intentions and looking to spoil his debut.
"He is definitely a veteran and he's been in the game for awhile now and faced some tough competition," Saunders explained. "He may have been on the losing end of some of those but he definitely has put his time in and has the experience in the cage to know what's going on. For those who haven't seen this guy fight he's a game opponent. There is no doubt about that. Everything I have seen on this guy or have known about him even before I knew I was going to fight him, there is no doubt this guy comes to fight. He brings it and for the most part he likes to stand and bang and that works perfect for me. I heard he has said in some interviews that he is looking to knock me out and that's great. Obviously I'm not going to fall for taking him lightly and go in thinking that is his only game plan ala Anthony Johnson vs. Dan Hardy. I'm going to be very aware and be ready if he tries to take me down. I'm going to assume that this guy is GSP and assume that he is well rounded and has champion level skills. I'm not going to take him lightly and I'm going to be very prepared. I've had a great training camp and I'm looking to go out there, do my thing and put on a show for all my fans. At the end of the day I'm going to do what I do best and hopefully go out there and beat him up."
With Saturday night's bout against Lee being the first of two contracted showcase fights, Saunders has the potential to become a major player in the young organization. With that being said, Saunders may have Bellator on in his direct path but an eventual return to the UFC is a fire he refuses to extinguish.
"Right now my lineup for this year is completely packed and filled up," Saunders stated. "I'm not even looking past Matt Lee but I have this fight on Saturday and another showcase fight that will happen afterwards then the plan is to be in the fall welterweight tournament. I'll hopefully go in there, win 3 fights in 12 weeks and walk away with $100,000. That would put 5 wins on my record this year and that is my immediate goal. All my focus is on Matt Lee and my journey and path for this year. What happens after that? The sky is the limit baby."
Saunders continued, "In the big picture getting back to the UFC is absolutely a goal. Since I was 10 years old, for those who don't know, I was able to witness the first Ultimate Fighting Championship live on pay per view and that is when I knew, right then and there, that is what I wanted to do. That was my goal and I wanted to be the Ultimate Fighting Champion. I'm still young and I think at minimum I have 8-10 years left in this sport and unless some crazy career ending injury occurs I still have a lot of time left. That has been my goal since the beginning so at the end of the day that is my ultimate goal."
Several weeks after Saunders signed on to fight with Bellator the announcement was made that put the MMA world on its ear. When the news broke that the UFC's parent company Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce, like every other fighter in the sport, Saunders found himself wondering what the impact will be.
"The news me sit back and think about whether it would have been good or bad to have been with Strikeforce," Saunders answered when asked for his thoughts on the purchase. "It's still kind of up in the air what is going to happen with Strikeforce. It's still up in the air as to how the company is going to be run, is the company going to be sticking around? Are they going to end up cutting people out....who knows? I will definitely say that right now I'm very happy where I am with Bellator...without a doubt. I don't think I've ever had a point in my fight career where I've had a year's path marked out and planned the way I do right now. That is actually one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. As far as Strikeforce is concerned I hope the best for them. I hope that this deal does nothing but boost mixed martial arts and make it more mainstream."
With the interview coming to a close the focus returned to his official Bellator debut this Saturday night against Matt Lee. While he has big dreams on the horizon, Saunders knows that he needs to bring his very best to the cage this weekend in Connecticut and he let MMA fans know his intentions.
"Fans can expect a lot of brutality and entertainment," Saunders stated. "I come to fight man...win, lose or draw. It doesn't matter to me. I just come to fight and hopefully put on a highlight reel performance for the fans."