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MMA For Real Exclusive Interview with Ben Saunders

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Ben "Killa B" Saunders (7-0-2) was definitely one of the brighter prospects that competed in the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter. In his three UFC fights since the show, Saunders has displayed a versatile game, highlighted by some nasty precision striking. Ben throws with bad intentions and has, as recent opponent Brandon Wolff found out at the Fight Night for the Troops event back in December, some textbook knees from the clinch. On June 13th at UFC 99 in Germany, Ben will face his biggest challenge yet when he takes on another product of The Ultimate Fighter series, Mike "Quick" Swick (13-2). This fight features two devastating welterweight strikers in a matchup that could see the winner entering the mix for title contention. MMA For Real recently spoke with Ben to find out how training was going for his upcoming fight and to learn more about this 26 year old welterweight from Florida.

Rich Wyatt: How and when did you first get involved with mixed martial arts?

Ben Saunders: I started training in martial arts at 8 years old. It was Bruce Lee that got me into it. My older brother and one of his friends were really into Bruce Lee. Martial arts have always been a part of my life. Bruce's attitude of being open minded to different fighting styles had a huge influence on me. Back in 1993 my friend and I saw an advertisement for the first UFC and I was hooked after seeing Teila Tuli get his tooth knocked out in the first fight. By the time Royce won that first tournament I was already thinking that this is the best sport of all time. Even during the down years where it was banned in most states, I never doubted that the sport would come back. Regardless, I was always going to pursue training and competing in it even if I couldn't make a living doing it.

Rich Wyatt: You won a lot of fans after your appearance on The Ultimate Fighter and your victory on the Finale. What was your overall experience like on The Ultimate Fighter and do you still think that it's a viable way to bring new talent into the UFC?

Ben Saunders: Yeah, I enjoyed it, man. I loved my time on the show. I had never even been to the western part of the country until my participation on the show. It was an awesome experience. The toughest part was having to maintain weight on 24 hours notice, so my diet had to be strict. I had only fought at 170 once prior to my time on the show. Being able to diet correctly and pace myself was helpful. I still got good training in and was able to get my cardio where it needed to be for fight time. But on the show, not knowing when I'd be picked to fight made for a challenge trying to maintain weight and trying to drop that much weight on quick notice. So the weight cut was the toughest part for me. That and the broken nose from Barrera. It was a 5 day gap from the fight with Barerra to the fight with Tommy Speers. I knew that I wasn't feeling good coming into that fight with Speers. I woke up with a sinus infection shortly before that fight. I went out there and almost pulled it off. I have no regrets. I'll be damned if I'll ever go out and throw in the towel. I thought the show was great! They should definitely keep going with it. It does nothing but promote the sport of MMA and helps draw new fans on a regular basis.

Rich Wyatt: What types of criteria are looked at for selection on the show?

Ben Saunders: I know that some of the things that they look for are personality and whether or not a guy is going to be entertaining. SPIKE has some say in the fighter selection. It's not all about record and who you've fought. Mac Danzig was the most experienced guy on our season. Every season there's a mix of experienced guys that are picked as favorites and then other guys that may have more charisma. And then there are the guys that combine a little of both. The show is called TUF for a reason. You're tested in the spiritual, emotional and physical aspects of the sport. Once you crack mentally you're nowhere near the same fighter you normally are on a given day. The show reveals who has the heart and the mentality to keep going no matter what.

Rich Wyatt: Do you still keep in close contact with any of the contestants or coaches from that show?

Ben Saunders: I still talk to Matt Serra some and also guys like Matt Arroyo, War Machine, Troy Mandaloniz. I've seen Danzig when he fought in Tampa and Blake Bowman recently joined ATT. I talked to him the other day. Whenever I come in contact with some of the guys from the show I like to catch up and see how they're doing but mostly we're just all doing our own thing.

Rich Wyatt: Like you, Mike Swick is a UFC welterweight contender that possesses knockout power. What do you see as the keys to victory in this matchup?

Ben Saunders: My key to victory is that I need to break him! (Laughs) Just like Drago in Rocky 4.

Rich Wyatt: I like that gameplan. Mike Swick has had a height advantage in all of his welterweight fights to this point, but at 6'2" you'll have that advantage in this matchup. Do you see this as factor that might come into play in this fight?

Ben Saunders: Oh yeah, man. It's a huge advantage. Even at MW he was used to having the reach advantage on a lot of guys and even sometimes the height advantage. He even had the reach advantage against Okami. I think that me having that advantage in this matchup will help me dictate range and close the distance quicker. It turns his speed down a notch so that he's not as able to come in and hit me as quickly as his other opponents.

Rich Wyatt: You've received lots of praise for the striking ability that you've displayed in your fights. However, most people probably don't realize that 3 of your 7 victories are by submission. Do you feel that this aspect of your game might be underrated?

Ben Saunders: In general, I guess I'd say that I feel like a dark horse. I don't think many people even know that much about me. Some people that just saw me on the show come up to me and think I'm a ground fighter. Others think that I'm a standup fighter. I just consider myself a mixed martial artist. I do it all. My career proves it with 3 knockouts, 3 submissions and only 1 decision. I believe that I can win by any means necessary. I'm testing for my BJJ brown belt this coming week. I've trained the ground game a long time. Most of my early martial arts experience involved standup but then around age 16 I got into wrestling and submission fighting. I found myself wanting to bring that part of my game up to the same level as my standup. I try to be a complete martial artist. That was the concept of my idol, Bruce Lee.

Rich Wyatt: Tell us a little bit about who you're training and sparring with at American Top Team in preparation for your fight on June 13th.

Ben Saunders: Training has gone really well. I'd say that I've been doing a two and a half month training camp for this. I was coming off rehab from a toe injury that I got during training for a fight in March, so I've been on the sidelines. I feel now like I'm in phenomenal shape. My cardio and technique are where they need to be. Come June 13, it's going to be a fiesta.

Rich Wyatt: Are there any other welterweight fighters in the UFC that you would especially like to fight?

Ben Saunders: Man, anybody that gets me in line for a title shot. If beating Mike does that, I definitely don't want to drop back down in competition. I only want to fight guys that elevate my standing. I'll fight anybody. I know that Matt Hughes didn't retire so maybe he's a possible future opponent.

Rich Wyatt: I know that you've been asked about this a lot already, but tell our readers your prediction for the upcoming St. Pierre-Alves welterweight title fight.

Ben Saunders: Oh, Thiago's going to knock him out. Definitely.

Rich Wyatt: Any parting thoughts or anyone that you'd like to thank?

Ben Saunders: I'd like to thank all of the fans for supporting me. I'd like to thank my friends, family, teammates at American Top Team and my sponsor, Tapout.

MMA For Real thanks Ben Saunders for taking the time to talk with us and we wish him the best in his upcoming fights.