UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Ben Saunders isn't one of those guys who deigns to discuss a defeat. Even two days before he needs his confidence to be sky high to step in the cage, the 6-foot-3 welterweight is as animated in recounting his most recent knockout loss as he would be while dissecting a highlight-reel win. That's because to Saunders, there is always a lesson to be learned that is more important than the black-and-white result of a fight.
Last time out, Saunders fell at the hands of eventual tournament champion Douglas Lima. He had arguably won the first round, and the second was just getting into a groove when he stepped into a short lead right hook and Lima came over the top with a ferocious overhand right. Lima's punch landed square, dropping Saunders, and a few hammerfists later, the bout was over.
"I was just trying to press forward, be very aggressive and try to finish the fight." he said. "Try to give fans some excitement. So I take back what I need to work on, because I’m going to be improving everyday. I’m never going to be a master of martial arts. I’m never going to be a master of my style. Until I die, there’s always going to be something new that I can learn. So I take it as a grain of salt. You learn more from a loss than you ever learn from a win. It just made me more hungry."
Saunders (12-4) took very little time off before returning to the gym.
One of the biggest tweaks he's made in recent months is an attempt to work on being more measured in his attack. Though he's gained a reputation as an exciting fighter capable of finishing (only one of his wins has come via decision), those same attributes have also led to trouble.
In UFC losses to Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman, Saunders feels as though he gave up key scoring takedowns because of his proclivity to walk forward. In a defeat against Mike Swick, he believes he forced the action, leaving a major hole that allowed Swick to catch him with a combination that led to the finish. It was similarly aggression that betrayed him against Lima.
While this sport usually rewards the fighter in attack mode, that's not always the case. That can leave fighters like Saunders who are naturally inclined to attack in a difficult position.
"It’s a double-edged sword," he said. "I’m trying my best to kind of use the control and pick my shots and be a lot more intelligent out there instead of just going for it, and that’s really what since the Lima fight we’ve been working on, being a lot more intelligent and scientific on how I go out there and fight."
In his Bellator 63 opening round matchup at Mohegan Sun Arena, Saunders faces Florida-based Raul Amaya, a promotional newcomer who is unbeaten, goes by the nickname "Smash Mode," and has stopped all nine of his opponents.
Saunders has been able to watch some tape on Amaya, but has also received good information about him from his teammates at American Top Team. Due to the short distance between ATT and Amaya's home base, several of the fighters were familiar with him and were able to offer scouting reports.
As far as Saunders can tell, he's durable, has good conditioning, and is heavy handed. Aside from that, he plans to go in and feel out the fight as he's always done, adjusting to the situation.
Far off in the distance, a possible rematch lurks as the prize. Next week, Lima faces Ben Askren in a title bout. Saunders believes Lima will uncrown Askren, and that it will be his job to navigate his way to the next title opportunity.
To do that, he'll have to go through two more members of a strong field that includes former middleweights Karl Amoussou and Bryan Baker, heavy-handed Chris Lozano, and Brazilian veteran Carlos Alexandre Pereira, among others.
True to his word about scaling back the aggression, he's holding back on his excitement about what lies ahead.
"It’s pretty much stacked," he said. "I can’t really pick one over the other. I really just need to sit back and watch how these fights go on Friday night, see who's left and who I’m matched up against. I did the same thing last tournament. I don’t know how the other fighters lead into these tournaments, but for me personally, I don’t see a tournament. I think it’s kind of ignorant to look past anybody. If I don’t beat Amaya, there is no semifinals. If I don’t beat that guy, there is no finals."