Ben Saunders (12-3-2) had no idea where his fight with Luis Santos (50-7-1) would go, but when the time came, he was ready for everything. Irrespective of a reputation built on some of the welterweight division's fiercest striking, the 28-year-old UFC veteran put on a grappling clinic at the main event of Bellator 53, working Santos all across the mat before locking in a ferocious keylock in the opening minutes of the first round to pave his way into the Bellator welterweight tournament finals. Though he was on his back for most of the night, Saunders threatened countless times with a stifling grappling onslaught, transitioning from submission to submission with relative ease, before coaxing a tap in the final segment for his fourth straight win since being released by Zuffa.
Not satisfied to rest on his own laurels, Douglas Lima (20-4) flipped the switch in the opposite direction, smashing Chris Lozano (9-2) from consciousness three minutes into the second frame of the night's co-headlining bout. Despite being known as a submission specialist, the 23-year-old prospect recovered from a crumpling right hook in the opening minutes to respond with a devastating stand-up assault, capped by the powerful right hand combination that put his opponent to sleep. The win was the eighth in a row for "The Phenom," who is now set to face Saunders in the tournament finals.
Also featured on the night, Brazilian heavyweight Thiago Santos (9-1) effortlessly dispatched Josh Burns (6-5) via rear-naked choke for his third straight victory. With the win, the 6'3" 260-pound Santos has been tabbed as a replacement should Mike Hayes' medical suspension result in a disqualification from Bellator's heavyweight tournament semi-finals.
Bellator 53 results:
Ben Saunders def. Luis Santos via submission (keylock) at 1:35 of round 3
Douglas Lima def. Chris Lozano via KO (punch) at 3:14 of round 2
Thiago Santos def. Josh Burns via submission (rear naked choke) at 2:23 of round 1
Ronnie Mann def. Kenny Foster via submission (triangle choke) at 3:52 of round 1
Giva Santana def. Darryl Cobb via submission (armbar) at 2:00 of round 1
A.J. Matthews def. Rudy Bears via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Raphael Davis def. Myron Dennis via KO (punch) at 0:29 of round 2
David Rickels def. Levi Avera via submission (triangle choke) at 1:06 of round 2
Luis Nogueira def. Zak Laird via submission (guillotine choke) at 0:51 of round 1