Despite UFC departure, Ben Saunders still possesses same drive he brought into the sport

Ben Saunders is no longer a member of the UFC roster, but he already seems at peace with that fact.

Saunders (22-13-2) parted ways with the promotion in January, the third time he’s done so. At age 38, his third UFC stint was likely his final one.

“I didn’t get fired or anything,” Saunders told MMA Junkie. “I fought my contract out. I knew what was most likely on the line when I fought that. I found out officially a week or two before news broke through the media. My management told me they weren’t going to re-sign me at this time – and I understood. I get it. It’s business. It’s nothing personal.”

Unlike other fighters who have a tough time dealing with leaving their famous three-lettered employer, Saunders is ready to let go and move on.

Why? For one thing, he was never in the game for the fame. When Saunders got into martial arts in 2002, he was unaware of the adventure upon which he was about to embark.

Packing up and telling his family he was going to college, he secretly pursued MMA with the dream of compiling a fight resume so that one day he could instruct. Eighteen years later, that hasn’t changed.

“I did all of this solo for so long,” Saunders said. “Yeah, you have one major goal and one major dream, but this sport was supposed to be gone. They couldn’t figure out pay-per-view. It was taken out of almost every state. I thought my life was going to be flying to Brazil and Japan to train and fight overseas – just to get fighting experience. Eventually, I’d open up my own martial arts dojo and academy. I’d live an – at best – mediocre but super grateful, happy lifestyle. I’d be my own boss.

“That was my passion. Then, the sport blew up – and I stayed. I’ve been able to accomplish way more than I thought for a short period of time. My dreams never really changed. It’s just really been about my resume. All of this is my college (and) my degrees. When I do open my gym or I do go do a seminar or when I try to teach and help the-up-and-comers, you would probably be pretty smart to listen to at least some of the old, crazy babble that comes out of my mouth in the next many years. I’ve experienced it all.”

As for what organization is next, Saunders is open to all options. However, there’s a certain noticeable excitement in his voice when discusses the prospect of overseas competition – RIZIN, perhaps.

“The only thing I’ve talked to my management about reaching out to was RIZIN – not that I have any issues with any other organization,” Saunders said. “I’d be happy to fight for anybody if it seemed like a good mix and a good collaboration. My passion to fight in RIZIN is straight forward. PRIDE was easily hands-down, the greatest organization in existence. It seemed like the most historical organization in the history of this sport. RIZIN is really the closest thing to replicate and try to be like PRIDE. I like the rule set they have out there. As a good jiu-jitsu martial artist, it works in my favor.”

After a stint on “The Ultimate Fighter 6,” competing in a Bellator tournament, and fighting on 20 separate occasions in the UFC, Saunders has a lot to be proud of. The accolades are nice, but Saunders finds the most comfort in knowing he made people happy. The outpouring of support since is release has humbled him, Saunders indicated.

“It’s probably the greatest achievement of my life,” Saunders said. “I feel it’s a greater achievement than my black belt. It’s a greater achievement than winning the best ‘Submission of the Year’ – the first omoplata in UFC history. At the end of the day if you look at my legacy and my fanbase, I was a fan favorite for how I fought.

Saunders is uncertain what his future holds. Generally speaking, however, Saunders plans to keep on keeping on – living out a samurai’s dream.

“If you look at Street Fighter and the Ryu character, his entire purpose of life was to train and fight all around the world – to test his skills against the best in the world,” Saunders said. “Whether he won or he lost, it was something positive to look at to improve upon. That’s pretty much how I feel I live my life. I really do consider myself like a modern-day samurai.

“My whole purpose in life since I was a child was to do the unimaginable. At the time, it was probably the scariest thing in the world that anybody could ever try to become and do. At 10 years old, I said that’s what I was going to do. My dream was to fight for the UFC. Not only did I do that, I did it well. Now, we’ll see what happens.”