Close to five months have passed, but the taste in Ben Saunders’ mouth has grown no less sour.
The 28-year-old American Top Team Orlando export had designs on challenging for the Bellator Fighting Championships welterweight crown in 2011, but his ill-fated encounter with Douglas Lima in November resulted in his being knocked out 81 seconds into the second round at Bellator 57. It halted a four-fight winning streak for Saunders and, more importantly, left him one step shy of his desired goal.
The defeat to Lima in the Bellator Season 5 welterweight tournament final only added fuel to Saunders’ inner fire.
“I can’t even put into words how disappointed and frustrated I am with my last fight against Lima,” Saunders told Sherdog.com. “I’m just really frustrated, and all I want to do is beat someone up. The only thing that’s going to make me feel better is getting that cage and beating the crap out of someone.”
The man who calls himself “Killa B” will get his chance. Saunders will face the unbeaten Raul Amaya in the Bellator Season 6 welterweight tournament quarterfinals at Bellator 63 on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The winner of the talent-laden eight-man draw -- which also includes Jordan Smith, David Rickels, Carlos Alexandre Pereira, Bryan Baker, Chris Lozano and Karl Amoussou -- will earn himself a six-figure payday and the opportunity to vie for 170-pound gold against either Lima or reigning Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren. They meet next week at Bellator 64.
“Coming up just short in the tournament last time has left me extremely angry,” Saunders said. “Unfortunately for the next three guys I fight in this tournament, they’re going to have to deal with that. I know that this bit of rage I have boiling inside me isn’t going to be the only reason I win this tournament, but I definitely think me fighting angry could be a very bad thing for my opponents.”
His path now crosses with Amaya, who has spent his entire professional career competing under the Art of Fighting banner in Florida. The 26-year-old Bradenton, Fla., native has finished all nine of his foes, five by submission and four more by knockout or technical knockout.
“To be honest, I’m just looking to go out there and really beat the crap out of Raul,” Saunders said. “I’m a little pissed off right now. I have a little bit of rage in me. I think it might be hard for me to be calm out there. I’ll have some respect for him if he survives the first round. I’m going to try to take him out as soon as possible.”
Saunders’ ability to finish and to do so violently has never been in question, as evidenced by his six first-round finishes. Blessed with a long and lanky build, the 6-foot-3 UFC veteran has become known for his damaging clinch game featuring sharp knees and elbows. Ask Marcus Davis, Brandon Wolff and Matt Lee, among others.
“Raul has never fought anyone like me,” Saunders said. “I feel that way in all of my fights because I bring something unique in the cage that’s very hard to train for. Sometimes I ask my opponents after I fight them who they brought in to prepare for me because, with my style, it’s not easy to mimic me in the gym. At times, I can be all over the place, so it’s not simple.”
A quarterfinalist on Season 6 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” he has not lost consecutive fights since being released by the Ultimate Fighting Championship after back-to-back decision defeats to Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman in 2010. Saunders believes his combination of skill and big-fight experience will be far too much for Amaya to overcome.
“I just keep getting better and better, so I can honestly say that I believe that I’m better than Raul everywhere,” he said. “I just can’t say by how much. I’m very confident in my strengths, and I’m working on my weaknesses so much that they’re becoming my strengths.”
Still, Saunders views Amaya with a wary eye. The Floridian last appeared in September, when he choked Jesse Lawrence unconscious with a guillotine in the fourth round of their five-round title bout at Art of Fighting 13. Such performances do not go unnoticed.
“Raul is a scrappy guy,” Saunders said. “He’s undefeated, and he’s a champion of a promotion out here in Florida. I see him as the wild card of the tournament because nobody really knows much about him,” Saunders said. “Raul is going to be trying to have his breakthrough performance in this fight, and I’m going to be trying to break his face.
“That’s pretty much how it’s going to go,” he added. “Just another day in the office for me.”