Ben Saunders file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Former UFC welterweight Ben Saunders got back in the win column on Saturday night, striking his way to a decisive first-round victory over Elijah Harshbarger for the World Extreme Fighting promotion in Kissimmee, Fla.
Competing for the first time since his August release from the UFC, Saunders spent the early going defending takedown attempts from the clinch, but soon created distance and zapped Harshbarger with a stiff right hook. When Harshbarger attempted to lure Saunders into his guard, Saunders motioned him back to his feet, where “Killa B” proceeded to pour on a barrage of knees and kicks. After a flurry of punches opened a cut on Harshbarger’s face and left him trapped at the base of the cage with Saunders pummeling from above, the “Ameri-jitsu” inventor was forced to submit just four minutes into the opening round.
“I hit him with a right hand that cut the left side of his eye,” Saunders said. “My corner -- [Ricardo] Liborio and Ralph Acosta -- was saying ‘elbows, elbows!’ So, I elbowed him and passed his guard to the side, some more elbows, and he tapped to strikes.”
“This guy said he was gonna bang with me, but I knew that was gonna be a lie, and obviously it was. He tried to get the takedown a few times, but my training’s been working. My takedown defense has improved.”
A one-time fringe contender for Georges St. Pierre’s 170-pound title, Saunders was released by the UFC in August after suffering back-to-back decision losses to wrestlers Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman. The promotion told the 27-year-old muay Thai stylist to work on his ground game and then get back to them, and that’s exactly what Saunders has been doing.
“That is 100 percent what I’ve been working on,” Saunders said. “I’ve been doing privates and everything. I’m training takedown defense, plus working on my offensive wrestling, because going for the takedown makes them defend, too. I’m getting back to my jiu-jitsu. I’ve been working like crazy, man.”
Saunders signed on for the fight on less than a month’s notice, having become frustrated after several other dates and match-ups fell through. While the Harshbarger bout didn’t carry the cache of some other potential opponents, Saunders knew it was a fight he needed to take.
“The money, the name, the pay-per-view, the exposure wasn’t there, but what was there was the fight,” said Saunders. “And that was what I wanted.”
With each win, Saunders hopes to take another step closer to his singular ambition: getting back into the UFC.
“That’s my number one goal,” Saunders asserted. “When I took this fight, I probably had a lot of bad things going for me -- in the sense of ‘if I lost to him...’ -- but my point was that I didn’t care. I wanted to make an example out of him. I wanted to prove that I’m still deserving of fighting against the best in the world.”