The Bellator welterweight title currently sits in limbo as champion Ben Askren awaits word on whether he will re-sign with the promotion or exit to potentially join a new home in the UFC.
While Askren sits and contemplates his future, the Bellator 170-pound division will move on Friday night when the most recent tournament finalists Ben Saunders and Douglas Lima square off live on Spike TV.
The winner presumably sits next in line for a shot at the belt, but with Askren currently a restricted free agent there is no telling when the title will next be defended.
Saunders would have no problem facing Askren in the cage, but right now as he approaches his upcoming fight against Lima he could care less what Askren is doing next, or if he plans on returning to defend the title.
"Right now, Ben Askren's a free agent, who knows what's going to happen for him," Saunders said. "Right now he is not officially on the Bellator roster. So Douglas Lima is the No. 1 guy, and some people have him as an honorable mention for the top 10 in the world, so that's all I give a f—k about. I want to get up in the rankings, I want basically cement my legacy.
"I want to go out there and prove what I'm made of and prove that I'm not just some regular fighter. I'm not a guy who's on sometimes and off sometimes—I'm one of the best motherf—kers in the world. A win over Lima proves that in my opinion."
While he may go to battle with Saunders on Friday night, Lima sounds like he's in agreement with his upcoming opponent. Lima actually won a Bellator tournament already but lost to Askren by decision in a fight that took place in April 2012.
He's very much in the same position as Saunders—if Askren returns to Bellator, he'll gladly face him for the belt, but if not he has no problem winning the gold from any opponent the promotion puts in front of him.
"When I came to Bellator my goal was to be the champion, and it didn't change," Lima said. "I want that belt around my waist. This next step is the most important one to do it. Right now, this is the fight of my life. I'm really going to go in there like it's my last one. I'm going to leave everything in there. I want a shot at that title.
"With Ben Askren, I don't know what the situation is with him, if he's leaving or if he's staying. It doesn't matter, I just want to fight for the belt, it doesn't matter who the guy is."
Lima's long-term goal is to get the championship, and he's not set on some kind of revenge fantasy to get another shot at Askren. It's a fight that happened, and if it happens again Lima will gladly sign on the dotted line to face him, but he's not losing any sleep over it.
"Not really, a title's a title, doesn't really matter who holds it," Lima said. "Doesn't matter if it's vacant, or if I take it from the champion. A title's a title, it's important for me to have that to be considered a world champion. It doesn't matter if Ben leaves or not, I just want a shot at that title."
Saunders takes it one step further.
After participating in three Bellator tournaments, he just finally wants to win one, and he believes whoever walks out victorious on Friday night can hold their head up high as the real champion in the welterweight division.
"I see nothing more than I want that big ass f—king check on my wall and say that I f—king accomplished that," Saunders said. "A belt's a belt, I could really care less. In my opinion, Douglas Lima's the No. 1 guy on the roster so I don't really need a belt to prove I'm the champion as much as me beating him proves that I'm not only the season eight champion, but it proves legitimately that I kind of am the champion. This is pretty much a championship fight in my eyes."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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