Ben Saunders is normally an extremely positive person.
His infectious optimism hasn't always been the case, though. Behind the sheepish grin is a man who rides extreme waves of emotion. And there are many peaks and valleys.
Saunders first gained attention during season seven of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), showcasing an extremely effective Muay Thai attack with powerful knees, elbows, kicks and punches. He was able to parlay those skills into an early undefeated (3-0) record in the UFC.
But he couldn't stay on Cloud Nine forever.
"Killa B" would suffer a brutal 14-month stretch that saw him fight through injuries, suffer immense waves of depression, score the biggest victory of his career and then have it all taken away by two very competent wrestlers. He recollects this period of his life with and also explains who he has to thank for helping him come back to the light in part one of this exclusive interview with MMAmania.com.
Have a look:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've heard you say that you've had points during your UFC career and after you got cut where you were in a really dark place, you went to 'hell and back.' Can you talk about what was going through your mind at that time and why?
Ben Saunders: To be 100 percent dude, after my Brandon Wolff fight, my life kinda went on a roller coaster, man. There was just a lot of stuff going on in my life between girlfriend BS that shouldn't even be a factor all the way to breaking my toe and having to drop out of UFC 96. I had a boot on my foot and I rebroke my foot while taking a picture with a fan, which fractured my foot and made it look like the Monster energy drink logo near my toe.
Financially, I wasn't in a spot that I really needed to be in because I quit everything, my job and everything so I could fight full time and that's when I ended up accepting the Mike Swick fight. When I was preparing for Swick the entire time and I know it's stupid, Swick's good and he was in title contention when I fought him, the guy's got skills, but I wasn't using my foot the entire time in training. I was walking around on the edge of my foot the entire time I was training for him. Even worse, I broke my rib in the last training session before flying out to Germany. The whole time I'm thinking I have to fight either way because I can't pay my bills, I can't even pay my rent if I don't fight. So there was no backing out.
I've fought through injuries, every fighter fights through injuries throughout their career, but I've never fought broken before. And that was unfortunately a defining moment and a learning experience in my career. This was really, really stupid. I was stressing out so bad while I was in Germany and I questioned everything out there leading up to the fight. I felt I had a great relationship with Dana White and I regret to this day that I didn't tell Dana and explain the situation to him. I should have told him, "Hey, I'm broke. I worked this entire training camp and this just happened on Friday. Can you tell me what you think?" I bet you they would have worked with me. I don't know if they would have fronted me money or would have gave me opportunities to earn some extra cash by making appearances or doing signings, but there was definitely a much more professional and intelligent approach to the situation. I was young, naive and stupid and to be completely honest, I didn't want to tell Dana and I convinced myself that I've won fights while injured before and I'd pulled it off and I could do it again.
I can't even watch that fight with Swick. It wasn't me. I couldn't pull the trigger, I was hesitant and I had this scramble where he just fell in mount on top of me. I just bounced off the cage wrong and from there, man, it was pretty much downhill. Coming off of that, I was just extremely, extremely depressed man. That was my first loss ever. I went to this darkness period. I knew that wasn't me. Instead of feeling all down on myself, I should have got angry. I should have gone balls to the wall because Swick got the technical knockout victory anyways. At least then the fans would have got what they wanted.
When the Marcus Davis fight went down, I was just like, "I'm ready to die. He can punch me in the face. He can do whatever he wants." There was no backing down and I knew there was no way that I was gonna lose that fight. After that, I had the two losses in a row and then I got cut and that was probably one of most depressing periods of my life because I was right where I'd wanted to be. I was at the big show and it was a dream come true. All I had to do was stay there, keep getting my wins and do what I had to do and then when I got cut, man, I was like, "Damn! I must have pissed someone off. I must have said something." I started questioning not my skills, but everything. What did I do? Was it this? Was it that? Should I regret certain things that I did? It was definitely a frustrating and emotional roller coaster. I'm a positive person and it was hard to see the positive in that.
The fans saved me, man. To this day they've been behind me telling me, "The UFC should have never cut you," and they had my back. There aren't many fighters that get a response and support like that when they're down. I've got to thank the fans because you guys pulled me out of the darkest place I've ever been. I've never been on a two-fight losing streak in my life, let alone getting cut from the UFC and everything. It was just terrible and it was the fans that pulled me out and let me know they were there to support me. They gave me confidence in my skills again and it was time to suck it up. It's time to come back. Bellator came calling at the perfect time. I'd had four fights fall through right before I signed with them and that was one of the main reasons I signed. I'm very happy with Bellator and they've been phenomenal with me. They treat me great, they've stuck my face out there in their commercials and it's been a dream come true. From where I was a year ago to where I am now, I'm a completely different person. I feel like the sky's the limit.
Ben will be competing tomorrow night (Sept. 10, 2011) at Bellator 49 against Chris Cisneros in the first round of the Bellator season five welterweight tournament. Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Ben where we talk more about his upcoming fight, his strategy and his love for this sport.
Be sure to check out these other interviews from our Bellator welterweight introductory series: