Fighters pull upsets all the time, and when their hands are raised, they often think, “Wow – I’m not supposed to be here.”
For Saad Awad, it’s the literal truth.
Awad (14-4 MMA, 2-1 BFC) on Thursday meets David Rickels (13-1 MMA, 7-1 BFC) in the finals of Bellator’s Season 8 lightweight tournament. And it’s a tournament he wasn’t even a part of until fortune smiled on him when Patricky “Pitbull” Freire had to bow out with an injury. Awad got the call, and two quick – like, super quick – upsets later, and he’s on the verge of a life-changing “not supposed to be here” moment.
Awad and Rickels headline Bellator 94 at Sun Dome at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The main card airs on Spike TV following prelims on Spike.com.
“Now that I’m in the finals, I do sometimes reflect on how I wasn’t supposed to even be in this tournament and came in as a late replacement,” Awad told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “Some people thought I got lucky and others thought I just made the best out of an opportunity, but I think I belong here. I know it’s hard to get into a tournament unless you have an outstanding record or have made a bunch of noise before, and I feel like every time I had a chance to do that, I lost those fights. But I knew I could compete with these guys because of how long and hard I’ve been training. So it’s not so much of a surprise to me like it is to other people.”
In the opening round, the surprise to just about everyone else came in the form of a 31-second knockout of Guillaume DeLorenzi at Bellator 87. In the semifinals this past month at Bellator 91, he stopped heavy favorite Will Brooks with a knockout just 43 seconds into the fight.
Those quick wins are part of a larger pattern Awad has been building since he lost in his lone Strikeforce fight in April 2011. Since that setback, he’s been on a six-fight tear with six stoppages. Only one of those fights has gone past the first round, and only one other has gone past the first minute. His six-fight streak has averaged just about 2:01 of fight time.
But it’s the two wins under the Bellator banner that have been the most impressive because of the stage they’re on. And now the former troubled youth has a chance to really change his fortunes since a tournament win over Rickels would give him $100,000 in total prize money and a shot at lightweight champion Michael Chandler.
And again on Thursday, he’ll be an underdog, 2-to-1, against Rickels. The knock on him is that if he wins, it has to be quick, but if a fight goes long, he’s in trouble. But that doesn’t bother him in the least.
“I wasn’t surprised at all that people overlooked me against Will Brooks,” he said. “I would’ve looked past myself, too, if I was in their shoes. I gassed out in a couple of my past losses and Will Brooks is a guy who was undefeated and comes in and pushes the pace, and almost makes people gas out.”
So if Rickels tries to take him deep, the way he’s done with his most recent three wins? Awad isn’t worried.
“I’m not going to say that it sucks I won so quickly and convincingly, because I did want to put that fear into the other fighters to look out for me,” he said. “But now people just think I landed some lucky punches. So I kind of wish that I went out there and fought for a few rounds before the finish, because then I could show people that I’m not coming in here to get bullied, and I didn’t just land a lucky punch.
“But we’ll see against Dave Rickels. I know he’s going to get in my face and keep me busy, so I plan on out-striking him, and out-wrestling him, and out-everything-ing him, just to show people that I’m not just a one-punch knockout artist or a lucky puncher or whatever.”
But if it comes right down to it, Awad probably wouldn’t argue against another quick knockout. Rickels is known for his chin, but Awad thinks he might be able to work his way past that, too.
“I realize David Rickels has never been knocked out, but my last two opponents had never been knocked out, either,” Awad said. “I’m not saying I’m just coming in here to knock people out, and I know he’s going to have a good game plan. I’m not so sure Rickels’ beard is going to protect him from a knockout like he says.”
For more on Bellator 94, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.