Whether referring to his opponent or the sport, Ben Saunders has a goal and it’s to leave his mark.
As an example of the latter, the 32-year-old’s return to the Octagon in August of 2014 saw Saunders lock up the first omoplata submission win in UFC history. An example for the former is his current significant striking accuracy percentage of 59.1 percent, which is the best in the UFC welterweight division’s history. So whatever “Killa B” is throwing, he’s landing. Together, it means that Saunders’ attack is as creative as it is constant.
“To be completely honest, I’m going to make it as uncomfortable as possible for anybody that signs that contract to fight me,” he said.
Nowhere was this more evident than in his most recent three-round war with Kenny Robertson in July.
“Man, what a crazy fight, huh,” he laughs, referring to his split decision win that saw nearly 200 significant strikes landed in total. Rounds one and two saw a blistering pace from both Robertson and Saunders, as the two were relentless, throwing punches, kicks, knees and elbows. But the final period was where the Floridian’s inventive offense was, truly, on full display.
“I always look for the finish,” Saunders said. “It doesn’t matter if I was completely up in both rounds - it wouldn’t have mattered. I came out in that third round looking for the finish. I went at him in that third round, rocked him and hurt him again. He went for the takedown and I did what probably has never been seen before in UFC history. No one’s ever got a ‘dead orchard’ and just obliterated somebody with elbows.”
Yes, a “dead orchard.” As one might guess, a dead orchard is from the same lexicon as “invisible collar” or “muddy waters” that has been developed and taught at the famed 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu by the mad scientist of no-gi grappling, Eddie Bravo. Generally speaking, a dead orchard is like a triangle choke, where one’s opponent has both of their arms trapped in it in order to control them and break their posture.
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Of course, one would need exceptionally long legs to pull this move off with any frequency, which makes it perfect for the lanky Orlando native. Between the omoplata and this dead orchard, it’s pretty evident that Saunders, who is a BJJ black belt under American Top Team’s Ricardo Liborio, is only expanding his already dangerous ground game with regular trips to Bravo’s lair in Los Angeles.
“I took a lot of experience from that fight because you can train things all day long, but when you’re actually in there with the sweat, the blood and everything is all in motion, it makes things a little bit more difficult to finish things up,” said Saunders. “I definitely was trying to finish. I believe I’ve been on my back four times since I’ve been back in the UFC and I believe all four times my opponents have been in trouble. I’ve been the aggressive one off my back. That’s the game changer. That’s the evolution of the sport. It’s been an absolute honor to be a part of history as far as trying to change the game.”
It’s not just on the mats that The Ultimate Fighter 6 alum with a 19-6-2 pro record is improving himself. Saunders’ trips to California began to have a dual purpose before the Robertson bout, as he is training his Dutch kickboxing under former UFC veteran Antoni Hardonk at Dynamix MMA. As with his BJJ, Saunders already trains with the best Florida has to offer in terms of the Dutch aesthetic with Bobby Robare at Mejiro Gym, but he is adding to that knowledge with Hardonk when he travels to the West Coast.
Up next, Saunders is headed to Boston for a showdown with Patrick Cote. The Canadian is having a career resurgence at welterweight, most recently engaging in a Fight of the Night with Josh Burkman in August. It’s a matchup that has all the makings of a fan favorite fracas with two big, determined and headstrong welterweights looking to crack the top 15.
“Man, I am super pumped,” Saunders said. “All I want to do is fight names in this game, and I’m sure everybody does. I’m in the game for legacy, I’m in the game to test myself against the best in the world. Now that Georges St-Pierre is gone, between Patrick Cote and Rory MacDonald, they’re the biggest names out of Canada. Stylistically, I think [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva is brilliant because I think we’re going to bring it. He for sure has the stand-up and God blessed him with a granite chin. He’s also upped his wrestling and jiu-jitsu game. Once again, I’m expecting a tough fight just like Kenny Robertson. It can go anywhere and everywhere. I need to make sure to stay sharp and on top of my game.”
This Sunday, Saunders will aim to go 4-0 in his second stint in the UFC as he continues to evolve as a martial artist for all to see. Along the way, he will push to do something memorable that will leave a mark on his opponent and on the sport that left an indelible mark on him.
“Hands down, I feel extremely blessed to be back and to be competing in the UFC,” he said. “To have things turn around in my favor the way it has, mainly through dedication and not giving up, it’s definitely extremely, extremely satisfying seeing how it’s working out for me.”