Bellator 219: “Awad vs. Girtz” takes place at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California on Mar. 29, 2019. Lightweight striking aces will come to blows as “Assassin” Saad Awad (23-10) faces Brandon Girtz (15-8), who hopes he “Hurts” his foe with vicious blows.
It would be hard to do better at that than Shawn Bunch did at Bellator 210. Facing former two time champion Joe Warren in his first Bellator fight since 2015, bunches of punches made Joe Warren verbally surrender and immediately established the former Olympic alternate Bunch as a legitimate threat.
Even though Bunch made that victory look surprisingly easy, the road to his return has not been paved for a smooth ride. “The Honey Badger” Dominic Mazzotta (14-2) had a rough start in Bellator when A.J. McKee finished him in round one at Bellator 178, but he rebounded with a TKO win at home in Pennsylvania and has been rolling ever since.
Today Shawn Bunch talks to MMA Mania about the rebirth of his career and the impressive improvements he made in his striking at Bellator 210.
“I’ve been working on my hands with my coach Rosendo Sanchez for years now. I was confident that I would be able to out strike him in the striking department, and I knew he was not gonna be able to take me down. I knew my wrestling was better than his (Warren’s) in freestyle, shooting takedowns. Right away I knew that speed and distance played a factor and I was able to dictate what I wanted to do the whole fight.”
Bunch didn’t just dictate how the fight went, he decimated Warren standing and became the first person in over six years to knockout or TKO Warren in a fight.
“I’ve known Joe for a while. We trained together back in (the) wrestling (days). He’s a friend of mine and I’ve got nothing but respect for him, but I saw blood and I just took it however I could.”
Bunch took it in such emphatic fashion that after Warren verbally surrendered he told his corner “I can’t feel my hands.” I asked Bunch if he was concerned about his friend’s health.
“I spoke with him after the fight and checked in on him, he said he was okay. He came back from the hospital (and) I saw him at the hotel, just making sure he was okay. The main thing is his health. He’s a father you know, he has a wife and kids and everything, so the main thing is to be healthy to go back to your family. That was good that he was.”
It’s a relief to know Bunch got a good report back from Warren on his health, but I asked him if he thinks his friend might consider retiring at 42 after such a vicious stoppage loss.
“Knowing his competitive mindset, I think he would want to compete again and reverse that last feeling (of loss), but I think he should consider not fighting again just for his health and his family. Ultimately it’s going to be up to him, (but) if he has a good set of coaches and team around him and family, maybe they can talk him out of it. He really has nothing to prove, he’s a legend.”
As for Bunch though the fight with Dominic Mazzotta is his chance to prove that the Warren stoppage was not just a one-time thing and that he’s here to dominate again at 135 pounds.
“Yeah he’s tough (and) well rounded. It’s a good fight, a good name, a good opponent for me, so I’m very excited about this fight. I think he’s very well rounded (but) I don’t know if anything really stands out. He likes to kick a lot. He has a taekwondo background so he likes to kick, and he has high level jiu-jitsu, that’s another strong point of his, which is good — it’s a good style fight for me.”
Bunch has Mazzotta well scouted. Nine of his 14 wins (64%) come via submission, but the “Honey Badger” may find that Bunch will stay cool and composed in the face of adversity.
“(You need to be) relaxed and comfortable when you punch somebody. Usually when you punch somebody, you tense up because you’re in a fight you know? ‘I’m in a fight mode’ when I’m throwing punches. So just being comfortable with just punching somebody, just being relaxed while you do it, and mixing everything together (is key). Punches and takedowns, wrestling, and not just all wanting to knock somebody’s head off. Just knowing how to relax and flow and put it together and create MMA.”
With four straight wins under his belt coming into the bout with Mazzotta including one over a former two time Bellator champion, Bunch’s MMA career is surging at the right time.
“Yes, I very much do think (it’s a resurgence). Going back into the regional scene kind of helped me out. I wasn’t happy about it, about doing that, but that helped me gain more experience and gain the time and training getting ready to win these fights. Just doing it more just helped me get back into Bellator and recreate myself and find the love and just knowing how to get better at fighting.”
Finally during Bunch’s last Bellator run he was submitted by Darrion Caldwell as “The Wolf” made his run to the world title. What does he think of Caldwell now that he’s come back?
“You know he’s been doing very well for himself, champ now, had a lot of good fights. He lost his last recent fight in Japan but he’s doing pretty good. He’s a friend of mine from wrestling, we wrestled together, trained together, traveled together. He’s doing good you know. That’s a fight I would love to fight again.”
If Shawn Bunch keeps on winning he may eventually have to face ALL of his friends.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Awad vs. Girtz” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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