Ben Saunders is rested, relaxed and ready for his third Bellator tournament.
After advancing to the finals in his first effort (losing via TKO to Douglas Lima), he was upset by Bryan Baker in the semifinals of the Bellator season six welterweight tournament. He knows he'll have to step up his game this third time or risk it being his last.
With several Bellator standout welterweights like Andrey Koreshkov, Baker, Paul Daley, War Machine and Lyman Good absent from the field, Saunders is one of the favorites to at least make it to the finals of the upcoming eighth tournament, which debuts this Thursday night (Jan. 24, 2013) at Bellator 86 when he faces unheralded striker Koffi Adzitso in the opening bout of the main card.
Saunders spoke to MMAmania.com during a recent appearance on The Verbal Submission about the importance of keeping your body rested, his mental focus entering his third tournament and what he expects against Adzitso in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It seems like every time I talk to you before a fight, you mention that you've got a massage coming up. Is that part of your weekly routine or even something you only do before each fight?
Ben Saunders: Yeah man, I train my ass off and I try to make sure I get one right before I fly out so I try to get my muscles relaxed and get any lactic acid build-up massaged out. Obviously, we're dealing with a weight cut as well so it's just overall very beneficial for any fighter really.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): There was a fighter who fought at UFC on FX 7 where it was his 11th fight in 10 months and his third fight in just over a month. Do you think that's safe considering most fighters average three or four fights a year?
Ben Saunders: I would say one, it really definitely depends on how much weight he's cutting. If he's not having to cut much weight, it's not having to take too much toll at all on his body in that sense and then obviously it would determine how his fights go. Did he get minor concussions, bumps or bruises along the way? How was his training? That's a lot of fights in a short period of time but hell, I fought seven times in 13 months during my initial stint in Bellator before this last six month layoff before the tournament so I definitely am one to know how it feels to be fighting so often in such a short timespan. It's definitely circumstantial depending on training camps, the fights and the weight cut.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's a good segue to transition back to you. By the end of that seven fight stretch in 13 months, were you feeling it physically that you needed a break?
Ben Saunders: I definitely felt that I did [need a break]. I'm just getting older now. I'm 29. I'll tell you, when I was 24 I'd be all for it. All day, every day. "Let's fight every month! Let's do it!" But when you're fighting literally that consistently and it depends on what level you're fighting at. If you're fighting at local shows, it's completely different. Ideally, you might be able to go in there, even old school gladiator challenge stuff where you're opponents are like dudes from Toughman contests and there's only like one or two real fighters that can go in there and knock out three fights in one night no problem.
Or look at Jeremy Horn, man. That guy has like 100 fights and he would do all kinds of one-night tournaments. I don't necessarily think you can fight to the best of your ability when you're fighting at an extremely high level. Look at the UFC. Josh Koscheck was one of the only ones who would do it. When he fought Paulo Thiago and lost, that was like his fifth fight in a year or something like that. At world class level, the top tier level, you're definitely not going to maintain top performance if you fight that often.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How does that affect you in the Bellator tournaments? You made it to the finals once. What did you feel like in your third fight in three months?
Ben Saunders: Yeah, I don't believe any of the guys in these Bellator tournaments are going to be able to fight at the best of their abilities going into rounds two and three but there's so many factors. Whether it's your personal life, your training camp, having bumps and bruises and then there's the mental aspect. It's 98 percent mental and on the physical level, it's adaptation. That is the best way to describe it. You need to have a very strong ability to adapt and a very, very strong mind. That is definitely what Bellator is out there proving. Who can survive? Who can be the strongest-willed and adapt to whatever circumstances and situations come about throughout the tournaments.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is your third tournament now. Is there anything experience-wise that you can take from your prior two tournaments that you think will help you out here?
Ben Saunders: Oh, absolutely. Experience is always going to be a defining factor in anything. It's not just the experience of being in the tournament, it's the experience of having six more fights under my belt, six more fights that were somewhat different every time. I learned something from each of them to add to my arsenal, my training, my gameplan, things to work on or progress on or refine.
I think the biggest thing was the back-to-back tournaments. I'm not saying it was the worst thing in the world, but I definitely think back-to-back tournaments might have played a part in me not fighting to the best of my abilities. I definitely am hoping that this time off that I've had, with six months off since my last fight, allowing me to take a break, clear my mind and head and jump into this tournament fresh and clear.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How good did it feel both mentally and physically to put that loss to Bryan Baker behind you and just crush a dude in 22 seconds?
Ben Saunders: Oh man, I can't describe it (laughs). Anyone that's actually seen the footage, they can actually see how much rage and ambition and testosterone was flowing through me. It ended in 22 seconds and I was still in fight mode. I was like, "That's it? That's it? Bring on another one!" It was definitely huge for me because it did not sit well losing that fight to Baker. It is what is it. You learn from it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The mental side of the game is so important. How much better does it feel to enter a tournament coming off a win where you looked really good compared to the last tournament where you just jumped right back into the quarterfinals after the TKO loss to Lima in the finals of your first tournament?
Ben Saunders: I will say the quarterfinals of the second tournament, I was still so mad at myself for having that mental error, that loss of focus for one second trying to go for that big knockout right hook against Lima and getting caught. I just had a lot of anger inside of me to go out there and prove to myself that I'm better than that. I think that's another of the reasons why I had a lot of motivation to go into the first round of the second tournament and put it all on the line.
It definitely helps mentally this time because coming off a win feels so much better. Coming off a loss motivates you differently. I can say it's really nice to know I can finish a guy in 22 seconds or last all three rounds if need be.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It's extremely rare for a fighter to get an opportunity to compete in a fourth tournament for Bellator unless they change a weight class. Do you feel any extra pressure in that department knowing this could be your last shot?
Ben Saunders: Not at all, actually. I think my fighting style speaks for itself. I feel I'm a very aggressive fighter and I try to be as entertaining and fan-friendly as possible when it comes to my fights. I think that's why people care about me when I step into the cage. If it wasn't for that, or my fans, I wouldn't get these opportunities. I think they respect and see that and Bellator knows that so that's why I believe I get these opportunities.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Any thoughts on a potential final between yourself and Douglas Lima, a rematch between two American Top Team guys? You two are probably the favorites for this tournament at the moment.
Ben Saunders: If it comes down to it, me and Lima in the finals again, that would mean fireworks. I think that would be a great fight, and I'd be trying to get that "W" back and go and live my dream and challenge for the title myself. He's obviously going to try to make a stamp and let it be known that he didn't land a lucky punch.
At the end of the day, we're both ATT. Amoussou is fighting on the card too, fighting Askren for the title and he's with ATT now as well. Who knows, man? I'm rooting for Amoussou to win the title and it might be two ATT guys in the finals to find out who fights the ATT champion. We'd be taking over the world!
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): People might not know your opponent Koffi Adzitso very well but he's the type of fighter that has this "knock them out or be knocked out" mentality. Is that the perfect type of opponent for you?
Ben Saunders: Man, that works out for me and the fans because I'm the same way. I guarantee the fans will be getting a show. They'll be getting two guys trying to kill each other in there and may the best man win! Every time I'm stepping in there, I know that this guy is going to be trying to kill me so I know I need to kill him, put it on him first. I'd like it to be quick
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How would you like the fight to play out if everything goes perfectly for you on Thursday night?
Ben Saunders: Man, I just want it to be quick. Whether it's a knockout, submission or anything. I am trying to get in and out and preserve my body going into the next round. The best way to preserve your body doesn't mean taking it easy and doing everything you can not to get hurt because I don't see that working out for anyone and that's never been a gameplan of mine. I want to finish you as quickly as possible and that's the best strategy to go into the next round.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Thanks Ben and I hope your tournament and that massage you've got scheduled in about 10 minutes both have a happy ending.
Ben Saunders: (laughs) I hope not man! I've got a dude doing my massage! I'm all straight with that! My girl takes care of me man so I'm good (laughs)
Ben would like to thank his muay thai coach Bobby Robaire, everyone at American Top Team, his sponsors Onnit Nutrition, All Pro Science, Future Legend. You can follow him on twitter @BenSaundersMMA or check out his Facebook at Facebook.com/TheRealBenSaunders.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Does Saunders have a good shot at taking home the season eight tournament title? Will the third time be the charm for the "Killa B?"
To listen to our complete conversation with Ben Saunders, click here (interview starts at the 35:00 mark)