Written by Paul Delos Santos
It was Bruce Lee who once said that a fighter should learn multiple styles and mesh them together. He called it Jeet Kune Do.
Ben Saunders has embraced this philosophy.
He's always desired to live his life by the way of the martial arts, and would have found ways to make a living doing something he loved—even if it meant owning his own martial arts academy or fighting professionally overseas.
"It was about living the martial way," Saunders said. "I didn't care if it was banned in the United States and I had to go to Japan to compete. I didn't care if I became rich or famous...Knowing that I could open up my own academy was enough, and I knew I'd be enjoying it. I feel bad for people who wake up every day that hate their job, and I knew I wasn't going to live that way."
Luckily for him, the UFC emerged and provided him an avenue to compete.
His journey has led to the biggest fight of his career against Mike Swick at UFC 99: The Comeback in Germany.
A win over Swick would give Saunders his first victory over a Top 10-rated welterweight, and move him up closer to fighting other top opponents in the division.
"I do believe a win over Mike Swick would give me a fight with another Top 10 competitor," Saunders said. "That in turn would set me up for a title shot. It gives me a chance to prove to everybody, that I have the ability to be in the Top 10."
And when it comes to looking at his advantage over Swick, Saunders didn't point to his hands, feet, clinch or other aspects of his well-rounded abilities.
He looked to something else—his mentality.
"I don't believe anyone can beat me until they've proved it," Saunders said. "I don't think anyone can take that mentality from me. If you beat me on this day, I still think I can beat you nine out of 10 times. My mentality is what is going to help me in all my fights. I'm confident in my skills."
He has no reason not to believe in his abilities.
Saunders holds a perfect professional record (7-0-2). The draws occurred in the first two fights of his career, and he has won seven consecutive bouts and only one has come by decision.
Saunders has experienced defeat before in the UFC, however. It was during his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Serra vs. Team Hughes, where he lost a fight to eventual finalist Tommy Speer by unanimous decision.
It isn't on his official record, because the fights on The Ultimate Fighter are considered exhibition bouts, so the results can be kept hidden until the show's airing.
Saunders admits that he wasn't at 100 percent physically or mentally when he fought against Speer.
He was nursing a broken nose and was on plenty of medication entering his fight. He went through with the fight because it couldn't hurt his chances of getting into the UFC by fighting.
He also didn't want to complain about being hurt on camera, so he didn't make a big deal about his injury.
"I was doomed before I went into that fight. That was the first time, I've ever went into the fight where I didn't think I could [win]," Saunders said. "I was so [expletive] up on three types of medication...It was do or die. I believe I could beat him. In all honesty, I beat myself in that fight."
Speer went on to lose to eventual winner Mac Danzig, and Saunders wouldn't take back the experience, despite the up and down roller coaster that came with it.
"It was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life, but I wouldn't take it back," Saunders said. "I proved something to myself and to the UFC. The UFC gave me the opportunity, and I got my next fight with the company."
Saunders would like to promote Bruce Lee's philosophy in the UFC on a bigger scale, similar to another fighter who is slowly bringing back another thought-to-be-lost martial art.
"Lyoto Machida is bringing Karate back, and I think he's awesome. I'm a huge fan," Saunders said. "I hope I can bring back Jeet Kune Do, the way he's bringing back Karate."
And that return can begin with a win at UFC 99 over Mike Swick.