On Saturday, Bellator will crown two Season 5 tournament winners with both men moving on to a title-shot with a $100,000 paycheck in hand to boot. One of the fields has featured wild finishes where every fight but one has ended with stoppage, while the other has been highlighted by a wild and enthusiastic personality taking on a slightly more reserved fighter who ended his last bout with a huge exclamation mark. Yesterday I looked at the middleweight final, while today I’ll examine the welterweight war between UFC veteran Ben Saunders and rising star Douglas Lima. I don’t often get things right around here, but these two were my odds-on favorites for making the finals, and this is the fight I want to see most, so I can’t wait for Saturday!
Welterweight Tournament Final: Ben Saunders vs. Douglas Lima
American Top Team has to be proud since they own both spots in the finale here. Lima and Saunders bring two completely different approaches to fighting into the cage. The outspoken Saunders looks for ways to draw eyes to his fights through his brutal Muay Thai attack and somewhat strange promises online. His latest? If he should reach 12,000 Twitters before his fight, he’ll attempt to use a Tiger Uppercut on Lima at some point. He previously promised to throw a Guile Flash Kick and scream obscenities, the latter of which was muzzled by MTV2 and Bellator.
Lima, on the other hand, prefers to speak in the cage, remaining silent throughout the tournament, with the occasional thank you to his fans, and urge to watch his fights. You won’t see any crazy promises or open discussions of Street Fighter because the 23-year old is a bit more reserved in the way he goes about his business.
Saunders is undefeated since his release from the UFC, including perhaps the most impressive victory of his career coming one month ago against Luis Santos. Many wrote “Killa B” off if the fight took to the ground. However, in a fairly shocking turn of events, Saunders easily dominated Santos on the ground and made it look easy with a third round submission victory.
Up north, I’m sure that’s news to American Top Team Atlanta who had probably thought Lima would have a decisive edge if it went to the ground. Lima had floated around from promotion to promotion until he was picked up by Canadian staple MFC and took their welterweight division by storm including a victory over their (then) blue chip prospect Ryan Ford. He followed it up with two stoppages before signing with Bellator to appear in the Season 5 tournament.
Lima’s been nothing short of impressive since debuting. A couple hiccups against Steve Carl in the first round were eradicated with a painful looking knockout victory over Chris Lozano in a fight where many labeled him as the underdog following Lozano’s victory over Brent Weedman. Lima enters the cage Saturday riding an eight-fight winning streak looking to challenge for Bellator gold at the end of this tourney.
Let’s take a look at some of the important tools coming into this fight, and who holds the edge in which area.
Experience Edge: Saunders
This one comes down more to the caliber of opponent Saunders has faced. Saunders has been up there with some of the best fighters already, and found his success at a young age. Lima toiled a bit before making his break but hasn’t been tested very often against the world’s best. Saunders was a bit unfortunate during his UFC run, being placed right smack dab in the middle of Jon Fitch‘s comeback to contention and near the tail end of Mike Swick‘s rise. Saunders’ fight has evolved so much over the last 18 months that it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the results may be different if it were done over again.
Striking Edge: Saunders
I’d never seen Lima strike so crisply until the Lozano fight, which is why I would’ve said Saunders in a walk beforehand. I still think he’s got better strikes, though Lima’s no slouch. Saunders’ Muay Thai is world class, and his foot strikes are probably the best at 170 in Bellator. He’s defeated so many opponents time and again with punishing knees. If this ends up in a clinch, Lima’s going to be in extreme trouble and he’ll want to take it to the ground quickly to get away. Lima’s got great power in his punches, and he’s capable of ending Saunders’ night with a few smartly placed bombs, but Saunders brings the much more multi-dimensional striking game to the fight, and you have to favor him in a standup war.
Grappling/Ground Edge: Slight edge to Lima
Two months ago I would have said Lima without question. Saunders had been dominated on the ground so often that I would say this would be a no-brainer. However, Saunders has been so good so often since joining Bellator that it’s hard not to give credit where credit is due and say this is much closer than before. I still think Lima’s overall experience and versatility may give him the technique edge, however, if Saunders comes in the bigger and stronger fighter, his BJJ skills might work to his advantage.
Momentum Edge: Slight edge to Lima
As I said with the middleweights, sometimes the hot hand feeds to the confidence a fighter brings into their fight and gives them a psychological edge. Saunders entered the wheelhouse of a BJJ specialist, and came out of it making his opponent look like he’d never trained a day in that discipline in his life. However, Lima has title gold around his waist from a fairly major promotion, defeating a couple of respected opponents in doing so. His versatile game was very much on display against Lozano, and showed his striking was closer to Saunders’ level than originally thought. Give Lima a very slight edge, simply based on the quality of wins that brought him here, and the longer winning streak.
I deemed the middleweight final between Vitor Vianna and Alexander Shlemenko the possible “Fight of the Night” but this is the must watch match-up from an MMA purist’s perspective. While Vianna and Shlemenko might remain standing, these two might just stay on the ground the entire time and put on a submission clinic. Both fighters are more than game, and I’m sure they know each others’ game so well that this could be a standstill of skill, or a “Human game of chess” as former pro wrestler Larry Zbyszko so eloquently put it.
Both fighters bring very compelling arguments into the cage for their respective. No matter who is victorious, Call it a win overall for American Top Team who can use this tournament to serve notice that they’re putting some of the world’s most elite fighters.
I didn’t make a prediction for the middleweights, but my feeling coming into this was that Lima would shock the world and take the tournament. With all due respect to Saunders, who I continue to like as a fighter, I’ll stick to my original prediction and take Lima in a split decision. I know it isn’t Bellator’s style, but I hope both fighters get a shot at the title no matter what happens. They both deserve it.
Bellator airs live this Saturday night on MTV 2 in the US, and The Score in Canada. Make note of the new start time which will be 7 PM Eastern, and 4 PM Pacific.
See you cageside!