In the season's second big upset, gritty Chris Saunders outworked knockout artist Sam Sicilia to earn a split decision victory for Team Faber.
Though the two were evenly matched on paper, the undefeated Sicilia's last four fights lasted one minute and 27 seconds total, and most thought his right hand would end things early for last-pick Saunders. But Saunders planned to counter with "footwork and badass muay thai" and used the clinch in particular to control the bout throughout much of both rounds.
Sicilia opened by throwing his huge right hand followed by an uppercut. Saunders immediately tied up Sicilia's arms and kept him against the cage, forcing Sicilia to drag things to the ground to escape. A high kick from Saunders connected in the subsequent exchange, and Sicilia crashed face-first to the mat. Sicilia somehow recovered before the fight was waved off, but ate a few knees as he worked his way back to steady feet.
Though his hands were low and he seemed worn out, Sicilia winged punches, then caught one of Saunders' legs, knocking Saunders to the ground with his counter punch. He worked for guillotines on Saunders throughout the fight, but none of them seemed to have the California kickboxer in danger. With less than ten seconds left in the round, Sicilia wobbled Saunders, but Saunders recovered, and his control and knockdown earned him the first on two of the judges' scorecards.
Round two was more of the same -- Sicilia swinging for the fences, Saunders tying things up and issuing knees and elbows when he could. Saunders got one significant slam; Sicilia got a single-leg but was quickly reversed and Saunders briefly looked for a rear-naked choke.
Sicilia connected with more accuracy, earning a knockdown with one left hook, and he had particular luck when Saunders was stuck against the cage as they stood up. But his technique became more and more wild as the rounds progressed, and Saunders' chin never quit. It was likely Saunders' clinch and his level of activity on the ground that convinced two of the three judges that he won that round, too, netting him the split decision win (20-18, 20-18 and 18-20).
"It went exactly as I thought," said an elated Saunders after the fight. "I've got a great team behind me, they helped me out. I have confidence and that's all you need."