Ben Saunders first came on to the national MMA scene when he appeared on the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter. Though he lost in the quarterfinals on in the show, he has gone on to become the most successful member of the season. Each time out in the octagon, he appears to get more comfortable, and in his last time out, he roughed up Brandon Wolff in a devastating first-round TKO win.
On June 13, Saunders takes a step up in competition level when he takes on welterweight contender Mike Swick at UFC 99.
Saunders recently took a few minutes to speak to FanHouse about the biggest fight in his career, whether he considers Swick a top 10 caliber fighter, and where he hopes to go from here.
First of all, how big are you? You seem to dwarf most of the guys you're in there fighting against?
I'm 6'3 and in my offseason I hit about 195. I don't know what it is, if it's the way my body's proportioned or what, but I'm very fortunate I'm able to do what I do and make 170. It's a huge advantage for me.
You don't have a problem making 170?
No. Once you been on that TUF show, making weight is never a problem. To not know when on 24 hour's notice you'd have to make weight, it was probably the worst thing in the world.
You fought on the Matt Serra vs. Matt Hughes season. What'd you think of the decision in their recent fight?
I personally thought it either should have been a straight-up draw like Tito Ortiz-Rashad Evans, or it should've gone to Serra. I don't understand how Hughes won the fight. I don't see how that's even possible. Second round, I gave it to Hughes, but what did he do other than hold him? I understand that he had good top position, but I felt Serra was being more active off his back than Hughes was doing anything on the top. I gave the first round to Serra and I felt the third round was close but I gave it to Serra. He took him down and finished it off with some ground-and-pound.
When you fought on TUF, you were eliminated in the second round of the tournament, but you've gone on to be the most successful of that season's fighters in the UFC. I'm sure you're not surprised at your own success, but are you surprised that you're the only one who's had success in the UFC?
That's hard to say in the sense that I never knew any of the cast mates before going on the show. I didn't know their career skill level, so it was hard for me to tell. George Sotiropoulous is still in the UFC and he was on my team. I can see him doing well. Him dropping to 155 is probably really good for him. He seemed a little light for 170. It worked well for him on the show because making weight was horrible.
I personally thought I was going to win the show. There's a bunch of factors that came into my fight with Tommy Speer and how I lost. It is what it is. I'm a fighter, I'll fight anyone, anytime, anywhere. Due to the fact it wasn't going on my pro record, I'll fight anyone under those conditions, sick or not. I believe in myself skill wise, and I felt I definitely had the ability to beat him, and I almost did beat him. My success in the UFC is definitely not surprising to me.
In your last fight you sort of brutalized Brandon Wolff from the clinch. Fans really responded to that performance. What kind of feedback did you hear afterward?
I got a lot of recognition from that fight and positive feedback. When I watch it, I remember what was going on in my head. To be honest I don't believe it matters who it was in the ring with me that night. I felt I was on top of my game mentally and physically. I was in the zone.
I think my first fight with Dan Barrera on the TUF finale, I was kind of hesitant about a lot of things. I was not as comfortable in the big show, the octagon. Yeah I fought in other organizations and on the show, but it was not officially the UFC. After that fight and the way it went down, I thought 'This is BS. I didn't perform to the best of my ability.' I don't like people questioning my skills and made it a point that my next fight I had to go out and put on a show and press the action. I think I did that against Ryan Thomas and then against Wolff. I have the same mentality every time. Win, lose or draw, every time, my opponent is going to know he's been in a fight.
What part of your game do you think needs the most work?
My whole game. I believe my entire game as a whole is something that keeps getting better and better. Due to my style, a lot of people say he needs work on his wrestling and takedown defense. Yeah, of course I do, need work on everything. The way my style is and the way I see myself, I want to stand and bang. If they take me down, I want to sweep, submit and stand back up. That's always been my mentality going into fights. But it is MMA and I've started to evolve into a complete mixed martial artist.
You were originally supposed to be fighting Dustin Hazelett before he got hurt. Who would you have rather fought if you had your choice?
Both in my opinion are really good fighters and both would be good tests for me. But Swick being 8-1 in UFC, and talking about how he's gunning for a title shot, it's an honor to fight him. I believe a win over him could quite possibly allow me to fight a top 10 welterweight. Fighting Hazelett could potentially have put me there, but you never know. I might've got Swick after him. I hope a win over Swick brings me a little higher up the ladder.
What's the biggest challenge Swick presents you?
I don't know how to answer that. I don't think he's a better striker than me and that's his strong point. It's my strong point, too. I'd say the biggest obstacle is the question, Will he stand and bang?
Obviously people know who you are, but do you hope to make a statement against him?
Yeah. At this point of my career, beating him would actually be the first official name I've ever fought and I'm looking to make it a dominating win. I don't believe it'll go to decision and to the judges. God forbid if it does, it better be a unanimous, he's a bloody, bleeding corpse but happened to survive kind of decision.
You're fighting a guy who's around the top 10, it's a featured TV fight, and you have the chance to really announce yourself as a contender. That's a lot to digest. Do you have to guard against being overly excited in this fight?
I need to calm myself in the sense of I get way too excited. As far as pressure, my mentality is my strongest point I have. I'm confident in my skills. Win, lose or draw, a fight is just a fight. If I lose, it goes on my record but I'm still 26. I'm still young. It's not the end of my career if I lose; it's a loss to Mike Swick. I lost to Mike Swick, I don't really care. I don't see myself going in thinking, 'I can't lose! I can't lose!' I'm still young, I have time on my hands. I feel the pressure's more on him.
You train at ATT with its wealth of talent. Have you been training with any specific partners to emulate what Swick does?
We pretty much go about our regular routine. We've got guys with his body type that allows me to work against someone with his same reach and height. We might have someone emulate him in a way to see things he can do. It's actually cool to try to come up with game plan. I can honestly say I've never really had that ability in my other fights to have footage to look at and try to find weaknesses. At the end of the day my game plan never changed. It won't change just because it's Mike Swick. I might see some openings and some flaws that I can capitalize on, but other than that, my mentality is to impose my will and fight my fight.
What's your mindset about fighting overseas for the first time? Do you have to prepare differently?
I've never done it before, so to be honest I have no clue probably what I'm getting myself into. I'm going to wing it. The great thing about being a pro fighter, my schedule can fluctuate and be different day to day so it's not like I work a 9 to 5 and have to be up at the same time and my body is adapted to a certain time. I don't think it will be that different for me to go over there. I'll arrive at 7:30 in the morning and from what I've been told I'm supposed to walk around in the sun, drink lots of water, and then when I'm tired at 10 pm I'll pass out. And I'll wake up eight hours later. That's my plan, so we'll see.
Let's say you beat Swick. Who do you want next?
If I beat him impressively, I'll be begging Dana White and Joe Silva for a top 10 welterweight. Who knows if they'll give it to me, but any of the guys in the top 10, I believe would be a good and exciting fight. Like I said, win, lose, or draw I'm coming to fight, and no matter who it is, it'll be a show for the fans.
You don't consider Swick a top 10 welterweight? Some sites do.
I think he's top 15. I guess the argument against him is that he hasn't beaten any top 10 guys at welterweight. He's 3-0 at welterweight, so they're not adding him into the top 10 yet. At middleweight, he did beat David Loiseau after his loss to Rich Franklin. I don't know if "the Crow" was considered top 10 when he beat him. But an official top 10 middleweight he did fight, Yushin Okami, he didn't beat.
Hell man, I don't know anything about the rankings, and I don't care. Whoever Joe Silva and Dana White think is the top 10 is what I'm looking for. I don't even know if a win over me would bring Swick to the top 10 considering half of the people are going to be like, 'Who the f*** is Ben Saunders?' Like I said, he's a good test for me. He should be at least considered in the top 15, so if I beat him, then hopefully I jump from fighting a top 15 to a top 10.