Ben Saunders isn’t done with MMA just yet.
After completing the last fight on his contract with the UFC, and parting ways with the organization for the third time in his 15-year career, “Killa B” would still like continue on his current career path before possibly making the move to other more en vogue martial arts endeavors like combat jiu-jitsu (pioneered by his coach and good friend Eddie Bravo) or bare-knuckle boxing.
Saunders’s most recent Octagon run saw him go just 2-6. He scored wins over Jake Ellenberger and Court McGee, but ended on a four-fight skid that was capped off by a second-round knockout loss to Matt Brown at UFC 245 in December. And with that, Saunders and his management team understood that the UFC would be moving on without him.
“I fought out my contract and I was hoping for a big win and I’m sure a big win would have cemented my opportunity to get another contract,” Saunders told MMA Fighting. “As of right now, they’re not looking to re-sign a contract, I respect that and I understand that. They’re probably looking for younger talent. Even though I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career, but I’m aware of them, I don’t have any reason to cry about it. Leading into this fight, I’d said three of my last four fights were four weeks’ notice or less. I was just a gamer, I was bandaging myself and just jumping on every card I could whether it was a smart move or not.
“I was terrible as far as a manager, but as far as a martial artist, it’s kind of funny, if you know the history of Street Fighter and the “Ryu” character that’s kind of how I live my life. Dude, I just want to travel the world and test myself against the best in the world. And gain and try to improve and get better and I’m searching for people that are better than me because that is going to push me to get to an even better version of myself. I don’t look back at any loss or any fight and see the negative in it. I can always see the positive in it.”
Saunders, 36, refuses to dwell on what went wrong in his recent fight, though he admits that emphasizing entertainment over a more methodical approach to winning is what has led to poor results at times. To Saunders, the thought of fighting to win over the judges as opposed to fighting to finish is an alien one.
To date, Saunders has almost 30 combined appearances for the UFC and Bellator, and if his time with those North American promotions is up for good, he sees a logical destination for himself overseas (one that would perfectly fit the Ryu metaphor). Nothing has been offered and Saunders isn’t worrying about job hunting at the moment, but he likes the idea of fighting in the RIZIN ring at some point.
“I already knew what was most likely going to happen, so I just enjoyed my holidays with my friends and family,” Saunders said. “Then after that it was kind of like maybe a week or two later I got the official news from my management and it wasn’t a shock to me, I was kind of content with, hey, I gave it my all and I understand. It’s business.
“Personally, as a mixed martial artist I think RIZIN would probably suit me the most just because I grew up on PRIDE, I still think PRIDE to this day was probably the greatest and most entertaining organization in the history of the sport. Most historical for sure, I feel. Since RIZIN’s kind of the next chapter of what PRIDE was out there—I’ve never got to fight in Japan. I’ve really, truthfully tried to live my life as a modern day samurai and tried to give myself a code of ethics, I guess in a way a code to live by, and it’s what makes me happy and content with the fact that I’ll be doing martial arts until I die.”
Saunders’s relationship with the UFC dates back to when he was a 24-year-old with just six fights on his record vying for a ticket to the big show on the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2007. He’s uniquely qualified to talk about the pressures of joining the promotion with relatively little experience—something becoming more common these days with the UFC’s glut of cards and the proliferation of names being signed off of the Contender Series—and what it takes to learn on the fly while competing under the brightest lights.
“I got myself into the UFC pretty much by myself three times, which is hands-down unheard of,” Saunders said. “But I will say especially—with my most recent track record—I would say get really good management because managing yourself usually is not going to work in your favor. The problem is the managers I’ve had before Jason House right now—which is why I was managing myself as for as long as I was—they all lied or stole from me.
“Trust is the biggest thing for me, hands down. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a relationship, it could be business, hell, it could be friendship. Trust is number one and if you’re the guy that’s supposed to take care of me and help me choose the correct path, you better be sure that you trust who you’re working with.”
One thing Saunders won’t do is warn young fighters away from being ambitious, especially if their dream is to someday become a world champion. That’s a goal he had for himself when he reached the UFC and while it didn’t come to fruition, he’s not complaining about how things have worked out.
“I would say that’s probably end game for a lot of guys or if it’s not, it probably could or should be if you’re looking to f*cking reach the highest level you can possibly go,” Saunders said. “Choose the furthest most f*cking improbable destination, shoot for that, and wherever you land before that, you’re still landing on a star, right?”