Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Ben Saunders.
Saunders joined Bellator in 2011 after parting ways with the UFC on the heels of back-to-back defeats. The lanky “Killa B” was immediately made a favorite in the promotion’s Season 5 welterweight tournament, and with good reason, as he earned finishes in the quarter- and semifinal rounds before ultimately falling by knockout to Douglas Lima in the final.
Saunders returned for a second go-around in last year’s Season 6 draw, this time stumbling against former middleweight finalist Bryan Baker in the round of four after taking a unanimous decision over Raul Amaya in the quarterfinals.
Both setbacks now in his rearview mirror, Saunders enters Bellator’s eighth-season bracket looking to succeed where he previously failed. The 29-year-old takes his first step toward a potential title shot on Thursday night, when he meets Koffi Adzitso at Bellator 86.
“I’m approaching this tournament the same way I approach every tournament, and that is that there is no tournament. There is just one fight and that is the one that’s right in front of me,” Saunders recently told Sherdog.com about his upcoming appearance at Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. “For me, being the favorite or the underdog really has no weight whatsoever. It seems in most of my fights in Bellator that people have [made] me the favorite, but I believe that really is just because I used to fight in the UFC and have fought some high-level competition. That plays no role in my camps or my preparation. I always train and fight as if I am the underdog.”
Despite his mindset, Saunders must nevertheless answer questions about his previous tournament defeats as one of Bellator’s most recognizable faces. To that end, the welterweight says his past shortcomings have only motivated him to become a better fighter.
“It sucks to have people have such high expectations and to ultimately let them, myself and the fans down. I know what I am capable of, and yes it does kill me to know I have, at times, not fought to the best of my ability,” said Saunders. “Believe me, I am my worst critic, and I have critiqued my losses over and over and over again. But with every loss, you gain wisdom and experience. This is what I plan on utilizing in this upcoming tournament. [The defeats] weigh on me, they anger me, but above all, they definitely motivate me. I believe all three combined [will create] an ultimate force that will be helpful in making [me] a champion.”
Saunders looked both angry and motivated in his most recent in-cage appearance this past July, decimating Brian Warren in just 22 seconds with a series of vicious knees from the Thai plum. According to Saunders, Bellator fans can expect the same level of “controlled aggression” on Thursday night.
“That is how I try to always fight. I want to come out and put it all on the line to get a victory that is devastatingly brutal, violent, and as exciting as possible. Sometimes it works out that way, and sometimes it doesn't, but that’s just the game when dealing with MMA,” said Saunders. “More than anything, even more than a title and a championship belt, I fight for my legacy. I fight for my name, my family, where I come from, where I’ve been and where I'm going to be. When I retire, I want to know that I gave everything I had in a sport that I love so much, even if that means the longevity of my career was shortened.
“I want it to be known that there is no question in anyone's mind that I had a world-class skill set, I had a passion for the fight game and that I had fans who supported me because of how I fight. I want to be known as that guy, considered one the best at what I do.”