(Ben Saunders during happier days.)
Ben Saunders rarely gets upset. The Orlando, Fla. native is generally a happy-go-lucky fellow who maintains a positive attitude and owns the slickest pair of sideburns on the East Coast. Even after receiving his first career loss courtesy of Mike Swick back at UFC 99: The Comeback, “Killa B” remained optimistic when he said to the victor and his trainers Bob Cook and Dave Camarillo in the locker room, “I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. I got TKO-ed by Mike Swick and I’m fighting in the UFC. At the end of the day, I’m living my dream.”
As he walked away, however, Cook muttered something along the lines of “TKO-ed? More like got knocked the fuck out,” and laughed. Saunders heard the remark and wanted to turn around. Instead, he kept walking.
If things weren’t bad enough, the welterweight was stuck at home for the next month rehabbing a broken rib. That’s when he sunk into a depression. “I drank and basically alienated myself,” the 26-year-old recalls. “I didn’t wanna go out. I didn’t wanna see anybody. I was miserable. The only reason I was there was because I couldn’t go back to the gym and train. That’s the only reason it ever got to that level.”
After recuperating, Saunders put his frustration and anger into training. He returned to the cage five months later at UFC 106: Ortiz Vs. Griffin II against Marcus Davis, who had been looking to redeem his top ten status.
Despite Davis’ much improved ground game and strong boxing pedigree, Saunders’ killer Jeet Kune Do striking style was too much for his opponent as he became the first person to knock out the “Irish Hand Grenade.”
Even with the highlight reel finish, Saunders still believes he isn’t getting the credit he deserves. “I feel Davis shut me off. I feel like a lot of people might still not see my potential yet and that’s fine ‘cause I guess only a select few know what I’m capable of,” he says. “I know if I’m there physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically, nobody can beat me. I don’t care if you’re a heavyweight. You can’t beat me. And if you happen to, three hours later, we can do it again and I honestly believe I can win. It’s just a mentality I have and I feel it’s a mentality you honestly need in this sport if you plan on being the best.”
Saunders was planning to have another eye-opening performance at UFC 111: St. Pierre vs. Hardy against top-ranked welterweight Martin Kampmann, however, “The Hitman” was forced to withdraw due to a nasty gash above his eye. Perhaps “Killa B” describes it best when he says, “it looks like vagina poppin’ out of his eyeball.”
Regardless, Jake Ellenberger has been tapped as the replacement and is just as dangerous. The durable IFL veteran is probably best remembered for his ferocious hands that nearly decapitated Carlos Condit and Mike Pyle. Along with an aggressive wrestling style, it could pose problems for the American Top Team product.
“A lot of people think it’s a bad style match up for me, but I built my style to be able to deal with anybody,” Saunders explains. “We start on the feet and guess what? He might have heavy hands, but for the most part, [he has] one or two weapons and that’s his left and right hand. I got eight. I got my Muay Thai – I got my knees, I got my shins, I got my elbows and I got my hands. And if he does happen to get it to the ground, I’m a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and I didn’t get to show it in the Swick fight. I was turtled up. It was embarrassing, so I’m gonna have to really show some slick jiu-jitsu in this fight.”
If Saunders continues his winning ways, there could be a potential showdown in his future involving gym associate Thiago Alves. Dana White, president of the UFC, has been vocal about wanting to see teammate fight teammate.
While most fighters refuse to entertain the idea, “Killa B” would embrace it depending on the situation. “If Thiago or me have the title and the other is the number one contender, then fuck yeah, we’re definitely gonna throw down,” Saunders says. “Yeah we’re teammates, but we as fighters are literally on the journey to fight the best in the world and prove we are the best in the world. That is our number one focus. If you have the title and I’m the number one contender, we got to do it because I did not spend as many years as I have dedicating my life to fighting to be like, ‘Nah, we’re teammates.’ Hell no. I’m sure he’s the same way.”
But for now, Saunders is remaining focused on the task at hand. Swick is the past, Ellenberger is the present and a title shot could be in the future. Ben Saunders is happy again.