Bellator 160: "Henderson vs. Pitbull" takes place this Friday night (Aug. 26, 2016) inside Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., featuring a No. 1 Lightweight contender eliminator between former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 155-pound champion Benson Henderson against former Bellator Featherweight kingpin Patricio Freire in the Spike TV-televised main event of the evening.
Henderson and Freire will not be the only 155-pound fighters competing for Lightweight supremacy -- Saad Awad and Derek Anderson will also lock horns, each looking to put together back-to-back win streaks. Awad is an interesting case because he lost his last fight in the weight class to Patricio's older brother, Patricky Freire, at Bellator 141. Most recently, he did take a short notice fight at Welterweight, scoring a technical knockout of Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos at Bellator 154.
Anderson should be a good challenge for Awad in his return to the division. He's 3-2 over his last five fights and would actually be 4-1 over that span were it not for a close split decision loss to Brent Primus. In a recent interview with MMAmania.com, Awad explained his confidence going into a what is essentially a hometown bout as he looks to once again assert his position in Bellator's most competitive division.
"I'm sure you know fighters always say that it's the best camp I've had, but I can honestly say that this one has been really good. I'm really confident going into this fight."
As far as confidence goes, there's one Bellator fighter who Anderson holds wins over and Awad does not. Indeed, Anderson has beaten Patricky Freire twice. Does this affect Awad's mindset going into a key Lightweight fight?
"If you want to look at that and do the MMA math, a win over Derek gives me a win back over Patricky. It's going to be a nice little circle after I beat him, because that means I beat him, he lost to him, and he beat him -- so it's a little threesome that we have going on."
Awad is joking around a bit and this comes across clearly in the audio, but what's also clear is that the fight itself is no joke. When it comes to straight up punching power (eight knockouts versus five) Awad believes he's got the edge.
"I always look at fighters and believe I hit harder than a lot of them. A lot of guys with his style that like to stand right in front of you, they usually pride themselves on being able to take punches. He obviously can because he took some pretty hard ones from Patricky, but I'm happy with that. That means he's going to stand in front of me and take punches just so he can deliver 'em. I think he's going to have a really short night if he does do that."
There were no shortage of hard punches thrown in Awad's fight with Santos. In fact, much like the viewers at home, Awad was a bit perplexed as to why referee Jason Herzog didn't stop the bout sooner.
"I stopped about two or three times in mid-punch and looked at Herzog like, 'What else do you want me to do?' I understand (though) sometimes referees stop fights early, they get criticized, they stop 'em late they get criticized. I didn't knock him out cold so he couldn't jump in there and just stop it. He's really a 'Cyborg.' I was hitting him so many times that I'd hit him and see his eyes go out, and I'd hit him again and he'd wake up and try to pull on my leg."
The only thing that Awad could do to convince Herzog that Santos wasn't intelligently defending himself was to bust out the elbows and bust him open. And since his left hand was already hurting, he had motivation to try it anyway.
"That was one of the reasons, but (also) I fractured my left hand. As I was hitting him, I was trying to hit him with my left and then I hurt it so I was hitting him with my right. I was afraid that I was going to keep hitting him with my right and lose my balance -- then somebody yelled, 'ELBOWS!' and I was like, 'Oh yeah!!' He got cut from the first elbow I threw, so I was like, 'Oh I better keep this up because at least that's gonna stop the fight.'"
The left hand is something of a chronic injury, but as Awad tells the story, even his doctors are mystified by what he does to it and how his body recovers from it.
"I broke my left hand when I fought Patricky. I broke it in the first round, I had surgery (and) they put a plate on it. This time I got a x-ray right after because it was hurting and they said, 'It looks like you broke it, but the plate is holding it together so there's nothing we can do about it.' I got a second opinion from my original doctor and she said, 'Let's wait two weeks and take another x-ray.' I went and did another and she said, 'I've been doing surgeries for 15-20 years and I've never in my life seen somebody break a bone that has a metal plate on it. You bent the plate in your hand and you broke the bone, but it's already healed up -- it was a clean crack right in the middle.'"
Awad's not worried about using his left in the fight with Anderson, though. His goal this weekend is to hit him hard and often and worry about getting another x-ray if he has to later.
"I go into every fight with a positive mindset. If anything, my hands are stronger, that's how I look at it, and if it's going to happen it's going to happen. You know if I'm gonna break my toe, I'm gonna break my toe. I just put it in my mindset that my hands are stronger, I have metal in them, and that I'm gonna go out there and throw the way I know how to throw and pray to God I come out with the win and no injuries."
Perhaps "Wolverine" is a more appropriate nickname than "Assassin" for Awad, especially if the steel in his hand is able to "Barbaric" Derek Anderson down for an early -- and violent -- nap.
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.