Saturday night’s UFC 245 fight card is absolutely stacked. With three title fights and two very intriguing bantamweight matchups making up the main card, along with a slew of fascinating preliminary fights, the organization’s year end pay-per-view is shaping up to be one of 2019’s best. In addition, a welterweight matchup between Ben Saunders and Matt Brown — veterans of over 40 combined Octagon appearances — has a chance to steal the show away from the fights on the marquee.
Saunders and Brown will compete during the ESPN2 preliminary card at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “Killa B” is looking to snap a three fight skid against a performance bonus magnet in Brown, who hasn’t competed since knocking out Diego Sanchez over two years ago and briefly retired from the sport.
With a full fight camp behind him, and a move to Vegas in preparation, Saunders feels as good as he has in years.
“I feel better than I’ve felt leading into a fight in the past two years,” Saunders told BJPENN.com. “I feel like I could probably write a book, maybe even a damn movie about the past two years of my life; a lot of inside and outside of the cage experience, wisdom and knowledge. I wouldn’t change anything. Everything that I’ve been through, and everything that has been leading to this fight, I don’t think any of this would even happen if anything changed. It’s like time travel; you change one thing and maybe everything changes. Maybe you blow your knee out, or something crazy happens and it’s game over a long time ago. At this point, I have no regrets with every mistake and everything I’ve done right in my life has lead to this point.”
After a brief, one-fight stint outside of the Octagon, Saunders returned to the UFC for the third time in 2017 and has won in just two of his seven appearances. Even with 36 pro fights under his belt, the 36-year-old Saunders continues to improve and evolve in and out of the cage.
One of the biggest changes he has made heading into his showdown with Brown has to do with his mindset.
“I would say emotional control [is the biggest change],” Saunders said. “Having the experience, the wisdom, and the growth, along with being a stronger person. When I say emotional, I don’t mean bawling and crying, I just mean… how many emotions can you have? You can be mad, sad, angry, frustrated, confused, there’s just so many emotions that go on in a human being and I think having the understanding to control may emotions under any circumstance is far from perfected but it is so much better than it was in the past.
“When it comes to the fight game, I think controlled aggression is my strongest asset. And if I can utilize it correctly in a fight, there’s no way you’re going to beat me.”
After being finished in three straight fights, it can be difficult for a fighter to find motivation. Ben Saunders isn’t lacking that in any way heading into Saturday night and will be looking to show the versatility he has shown UFC fans in the past.
With a game opponent like Brown standing across the Octagon from him, Saunders isn’t just planning to get a win, he’s planning to steal the shine from everyone else on the stacked lineup of fighters.
“The big difference is the attention that I’m getting for this fight,” Saunders explained. “The opportunity to get this fight and test myself against somebody like Matt Brown, it brings a lot of joy and positivity. I’ve been grinding and working my ass off for so long that it’s just so awesome when everything aligns and you get these fantastic opportunities. My plan is to go out there and steal the show with Matt Brown. This entire card is absolute fire. It’s amazing! But my plan is to go out there and steal the show. I’m looking to create a highlight reel. I’m looking to, if possible, show the world some techniques they’ve never seen before. I’m always motivated, I’m always going to be a hard worker and I’m always wanting to create works of art inside that Octagon, show some artistic brilliance out there, but when I get a name like that on a card like this with a full training camp, I can’t wait to see what I’m able to pull off.”
Matt Brown has been with the UFC for over a decade since coming off of Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter. Ben Saunders is the only active fighter on the roster from Season 6 of TUF which makes for an interesting storyline.
The other thing being discussed amongst the MMA community is the two-year layoff for the 38-year-old Brown. Regardless of the lack of cage time Brown has had over the last couple of years, Saunders realizes that his opponent hasn’t been sitting on the couch eating potato chips. Saunders is focused on facing the best version of Brown and isn’t having any thoughts about ring rust, or anything else that could steer is focus in an unhealthy direction.
“I would definitely say it’s business as usual,” Saunders said. “I don’t like to put my mind into my opponent’s head because that’s counterproductive. I don’t know what’s going on in his head. It could be like, ‘oh, man, two years’, he could be dealing with that in his head. Or he could’ve done everything correctly to get himself in a good place. Maybe he was burned out. With anything we do in our lives, we can get burned out. My mentality is hoping we’re going to see the best Matt Brown to date. I’m hoping he’s coming in super healed up, super prepared and, this way, when I get my victory against him, it will be without question a victory over the best Matt Brown.
“I’m a samurai. I want to fight the best. I want me to be the best versus his best and I want to come out on top.”
As history suggests, if a fighter drops three in a row, the UFC tends to cut bait as their roster continues to rapidly expand. The organization has not done that with Ben Saunders and has given him the chance to right the wrong against a well-respected fighter on Saturday night.
Many believe that this could be Saunders’ last chance to make something happen with this current UFC run. “Killa B” isn’t allowing himself to get swallowed up in the negativity and believes that he still has a lot to offer to the sport, as well as the biggest organization in the world.
In fact, Saunders has been dealing with these kinds of pressures since he got into the sport nearly 20 years ago.
“I think that’s ridiculous pressure to put on yourself,” Saunders stated. “I know for a fact how good I am, what my skillset is, what I’m capable of. So I know this will not be the end. I damn sure need to not be thinking about any career ending accidents and injuries that could occur because that’s just negative. That doesn’t help anybody. That just brings additional stress into your life that is pointless.
“Since day one, since I got into this game, since I was 18, since I was lying to my parents saying that I’m going to go to Orlando to go to college, and it was really because Orlando had United Champions with Din Thomas — which was the only MMA place in Florida to go train,” Saunders continued. “I lied to my parents to go there. I had points where my entire family was against me. My car broke down, I lost my job, I was about to get evicted and they were all like, ‘What are you doing? You’re not going to college, what is this fighting thing?’ They were super negative and I had to stop talking to them until I was able to prove that what I’m doing isn’t pointless. So thinking about the what if’s and could haves doesn’t make much sense to me. I could always go to college, I could always find something that’s not my passion, not my love, not my dreams later in life once I hit that crossroads.
“I’ve been so lucky and unfortunate to be able to do this that I see no reason to change my mentality about how I look at my career and fighting. It’s just another fight. It just happens to be one that I’m super motivated to show people what’s up.”
When it comes to a prediction for Saturday night, Ben Saunders has a lot of ideas in his head — some of which are so unbelievable, he wouldn’t reveal them in the conversation. At the end of the day, Saunders’ experience with Matt Brown will be a win-win: either he gets his hand raised in victory after a spectacular performance, or he learns a new lesson he can take with him moving forward.
“If I told you everything going on in my head, you’d say, ‘Damn! There’s no way…’ and I’d say, ‘Wait, just wait. Just watch,'” Saunders said. “I think my skillset speaks for itself. I can beat you standing, I can beat you from a distance. I can beat you with kicks, punches, from the clinch, takedowns, ground and pound, and submission. I am a true jack of all trades. I am a true mixed martial artist. I come from Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. The reason I have been able to evolve with the game so well is because of my background in Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do; take what’s useful, discard what’s useless and create what’s essentially your own. There is no all masterful style system or technique. It was learn everything because whether you use it, need to defend against it, or if you need to teach it to others who find it beneficial, it’s all good.
“Whatever happens in a fight, I’m learning so many different things. And yeah, you can say it’s not a loss if you learn. I love that, that’s a fantastic way to look at things as long as you never lose the same way twice. It’s not a loss if you learn something from that, you clearly adapted and changed, and are aware of certain dangers that you weren’t aware of before.”
As a consummate professional, Ben Saunders has a message from his opponent heading into Saturday night.
“Matt Brown, thank you for taking the fight, son. We’re gonna put on a show!”
Who takes the fight at UFC 245 between Ben Saunders and Matt Brown?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 12/10/2019.