Persistence has never been an issue for Ben Saunders.
Twice released by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 alum made a triumphant return to the promotion at UFC Fight Night “Rodriguez vs. Penn” and did so against the odds. Saunders -- a modest +120 underdog, according to BetDSI.com -- took a three-round unanimous decision from Court McGee (-140), earning 29-28 nods from all three judges on Sunday at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
Kicks were the story for Saunders. He unleashed a seemingly endless string of them, zeroing in on McGee’s legs, arms, body and head. Saunders was not surprised by the inability to finish “The Ultimate Fighter 11” winner.
“I knew he was going to be tough,” he said. “He’s got a hardcore chin, [and he has] never been submitted. He’s got endurance for days. Heart and endurance are a big part of his strength. More power to him. Both of us had nothing but respect.”
Only one other favorite was bitten by the upset bug.
Former King of the Cage champion Frankie Saenz (-156) continued to crash back to earth after a 3-0 start to his UFC career, as he wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against MMA Lab rep Augusto Mendes. Judges Chris Flores and Dennis O’Connell scored the first and third rounds for Mendes, awarding him 29-28 marks. Meanwhile, judge Brad Frank saw Rounds 1 and 2 for Saenz, casting a dissenting 29-28 score in his favor.
The narrow victory allowed Mendes (+131) to rebound from his first professional defeat, a first-round knockout loss to Cody Garbrandt at UFC Fight Night 83 in February. Garbrandt went on to capture the UFC bantamweight championship 10 months later.