Ben Saunders used his grappling to get to the finals at Bellator 53. | Photo: Keith Mills
In the past, Ben Saunders struggled when put on his back. Not content to be known for his vicious knees and striking, Saunders put on a dominant display of grappling en route to a third-round submission win over Luis "Sapo" Santos in the main event of Bellator 53 at Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla., advancing to the finals of the promotion's Season 5 welterweight tournament.
Santos immediately wanted "Killa B" on the mat, closing the distance and putting the spindly UFC veteran against the cage. However, Santos was clearly unaware of what he was getting himself into: the minute they ended up on the floor, Saunders went to rubber guard, to mission control, to a backwards triangle. This development was the cornerstone of the first 10 minutes.
In both rounds one and two, Santos, who defeated Dan Hornbuckle in September to reach the semis, spent the majority of the fight on top, yet was completely frozen by Saunders' grappling. When he freed his head from the triangle attempt, he would end up in an omoplata, and Saunders' incredibly length and reach allowed him to hold the Brazilian in place while landing legitimately punishing straight punches from his back.
After Saunders managed to completely dominate him from his back for 10 minutes, the Belem, Brazil-born, Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Santos rolled for a leglock to start the third. Saunders used the opportunity to take top position, where he locked up a keylock from half guard.
Though one would certainly not expect a BJJ black belt to tap to a keylock from half guard, Saunders managed to brutally torque Santos' elbow by using his freakish size and leverage, illiciting the tap at 1:45 of the third round.
"I told people before I didn't know what the gameplan was gonna be," Saunders smirked post-fight. "But, we did it everywhere, and spent a lot of time on the ground."
Saunders, now 12-3-2, has now won four fights in the last 12 months, with all of them by way of stoppage. The well-traveled Santos falls to 50-7-1 with the loss.
Not unlike Saunders, hot welterweight prospect Douglas Lima wasn't content to be known as a grappler, and so he turned in a scintillating knockout over heavy-hitting Cleveland native Chris Lozano to punch his ticket to the Bellator Season 5 welterweight tournament final.
Just as was the case in his September quarterfinal with Steve Carl, Lima was rocked early by his foe, and yet, it seemed to be exactly the wake-up call that the 23-year-old Atlanta-based Brazilian needed.
A right hook from Lozano, who bested Brent Weedman in a thrilling September quarterfinal, buckled Lima for a second, but the former Maximum Fighting Championship welterweight champion instantly responded with strikes of his own. From there, Lima established his jab and lead left hook, which had Lozano's mouth and nose streaming blood, and his eyes swollen by the end of the first round.
In round two, Lima continued his attack with low kicks and lefts. Just over halfway through the round, Lima missed with a left hook, but a rocket of a right hand was straight behind it. The crisp cross laid waste to Lozano instantly, who dropped to the mat in a heap, unconscious, at 3:14 of the second frame.
The win, the eighth straight for Lima, move his career mark to 20-4, while the 29-year-old Lozano tastes defeat for the second time, falling to 9-2.
"The man looks good. His jiu-jitsu is on point. I'm happy to take a challenge like that," Lima said greeting his future opponent Saunders in the cage after his main event victory. Saunders and Lima will meet in the tournament finale at Bellator 56 on Nov. 12 at Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario, Canada.
Bellator Season 5 heavyweight tournament semifinalist Mike Hayes might have defeated Neil Grove a week ago, but a fractured orbital bone has him under a 60-day suspension, and has cast significant doubt on whether or not he will be able to continue in the tournament to take on Bulgarian Blagoi Ivanov at Bellator 56 on Oct. 29.
If Hayes cannot be cleared by an opthamologist by then, his spot will now go to previously scheduled tournament entrant Thiago Santos, who easily put away Detroit's Josh Burns by submission in the first round of their tournament reserve bout.
Santos was scheduled to meet the aforementioned Ivanov in last week's tournament quarterfinal at Bellator 52, but had his stateside debut postponed due to visa issues. Following Hayes' touch-and-go situation, Santos was invited back to the Bellator cage a week later than expected to fight for a potential chance to get back into the tournament.
Burns had nothing to offer, as Santos easily got him to the ground 90 seconds into the bout, and Burns was immediately exhausted. After inexplicably reaching behind himself to defend Santos' punches, the Brazilian rear-naked choked him with no hooks in at 2:23 of the first round.
The once-beaten Santos will now meet Blagoi Ivanov if Mike Hayes is unable to have his right orbital bone injury cleared in time to compete on Oct. 29 in Kansas City, Kan.
In a Season 6 featherweight tournament qualifier, Las Vegas-based Briton Ronnie Mann dedicated his bout against Kenny Foster to his recently deceased trainer Shawn Tompkins, but opted to make his tribute via submission.
Mann did show off his striking early, but his kick-heavy offense was countered by the tough wrestling of Ithaca, N.Y.'s Foster. After Foster's first takedown, Mann sought a triangle, but was unsuccessful. However, after a second takedown, Mann deftly locked up a tighter triangle, underhooked Foster's leg and left him helpless to do anything but tap out at 3:51 of the first round.
Now 20-4-1 with the victory, the win was the 24-year-old Mann's first win since falling to Summer Series featherweight tournament winner Pat Curran in July.
Mann is now the first fighter officially qualified for Bellator's forthcoming featherweight tournament in Season 6, tentatively scheduled to begin in early 2012.