At 32, and in the peak of his physical prime, three-time Bellator MMA welterweight champion Douglas Lima is finally getting the recognition he deserves as one of the best fighters, regardless of promotion, in the world today. So it's only fitting given his modus operandi that the Bellator MMA Welterweight World Grand Prix winner would celebrate by accepting the most dangerous challenge of his career.
Lima (32-7) will move up to 185 pounds for the first time in a decade when he faces former champion Gegard Mousasi (46-7-2) on Thursday for the vacant middleweight title headlining Bellator 250 (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network) from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
The title became vacant when Rafael Lovato Jr. (10-0), who won a majority decision to capture the belt from Mousasi in 2019, was forced to relinquish it and retire on the advice of his doctors while dealing with a brain condition called cerebral cavernoma.
"It was my decision [to move up]," Lima said during an interview with "Morning Kombat" on Tuesday. "I always thought about moving up to middleweight because of all the crazy weight cuts and everything we went through at 170. For me, it was the perfect time because we just went through the tournament. I beat just about everyone who was in the top five. Instead of getting rematches, I gave it a shot. Why not?"
Lima shared the idea with Bellator MMA president Scott Coker under the terms he would remain welterweight champion and defend both belts, to which Coker agreed. Should he win, Lima would join Joe Warren, Ryan Bader and Patricio "Pitbull" Freire as the only Bellator fighters to win titles in multiple divisions, with Bader and Freire joining him in doing so simultaneously.
The major motivating factor for Lima in terms of why he wants to challenge himself so difficulty is that he knows firsthand how fickle the critics and experts can be following one defeat.
A native of Brazil, Lima took the long road to the top shortly after moving to the United States and settling in Georgia. He turned pro at just 18 in 2006 and never stopped improving, even after a one-sided title defeat to then-champion Ben Askren at Bellator 64 in 2012. Lima has also redeemed himself from subsequent title defeats by avenging losses in recent years to Andrey Koreshkov and Rory MacDonald while showing resiliency in twice regaining the 170-pound title.
"I always knew from day one that I could compete with these guys but the respect was never there [in return,]" Lima said. "So you just have to keep fighting until these guys are going to realize. I just had to keep beating everyone they put in front of me and keep asking for the best competition. To this day, the best competition that is there, I am going to ask for them. Doing it the hard way, I think that way is better.
"There is always those guys that think if he's not in the UFC, he's not that great. It doesn't bug me anymore. I don't really care about it and I've just got to keep doing me and fighting the best fighters that are willing to fight and win fights. That's the main thing, to keep winning because one loss can take away everything. People will stop thinking about you after one bad loss."
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Having a little brother in UFC welterweight Dhiego Lima as your main sparring partner hasn't hurt Lima's transformation into a world-class fighter, who is well-rounded enough to conceal any obvious flaws to his game. Another reason Lima believes he can compete with someone as experienced and talented as Mousasi, who has fought and won at both light heavyweight and heavyweight in the past, is because of how big he is for the welterweight division.
Lima said he walks around at 200 pounds and will only be giving up one inch of height and less than two inches in reach to the 6-foot-2 Mousasi once they enter the cage.
"As far as adapting to the weight, I don't think anything is going to change," Lima said. "I'm just going to have more energy and all my power. Right now, I'm just cutting the water weight and not losing any weight. It will be a little bit easier on the body. I won't be huge for the weight class but I don't think I'm going to be that much smaller than him."
One thing Lima is not discouraged about is how poorly his welterweight rival MacDonald looked when attempting the same move in 2018. MacDonald moved up to 185 pounds to challenge for Mousasi's title only to get beaten up in a one-sided TKO defeat.
From Lima's perspective, there's no comparison at all between what he is doing and how MacDonald failed; not just because he's naturally bigger, but also that he believes MacDonald wasn't himself and didn't show up to fight.
Another difference between them is that Lima said he doesn't on fighting like a smaller fighter, either, which means he isn't looking for the judges to be involved.
"[Mousasi] fought at heavyweight and tapped Mark Hunt out. He is a guy that fought in three weight classes above mine but if you are a fighter, you are here for challenges," Lima said. "If you are not here for a challenge like that than I don't know what you're doing as a fighter. Of course he is going to be bigger but it's all good. I have trained with big guys before and I have paid my dues in the gym. I have nothing to worry about and have done everything I could to prepare for this fight.
"I'm going to be looking for the finish. I don't care who he has fought and I don't care what weight he is, he's fighting me on Thursday night. I'm going to be looking for that finish and I don't care what he brings. I'm just focusing on who I am and what I worked on and we will see what happens."
This card has plenty of intriguing names filling out the undercard as well. Henry Corrales is set to take on Brandon Girtz in a featherweight showdown in the co-main event. Former WWE and current AEW star Jake Hager is back in a heavyweight contest against Brandon Calton. And top prospect Adam Borics is back in a 150-pound catchweight bout against Erick Sanchez. This event was expected to see Nick Newell's return as well, but the amputee tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and was removed.
Fight card, odds
Gegard Mousasi -170
Douglas Lima +145
Henry Corrales -310
Brandon Girtz +250
This is one of the best fights the sport can produce this calendar year, regardless of promotion, as both fighters bring elite skills, toughness and the passion to compete. The biggest thing separating them, on paper, is the fact that Mousasi is the naturally bigger man.
Should the size and potential strength advantage prove more exaggerated than functional inside once they touch gloves and begin to trade strikes, Mousasi may end up finding the hard way just how world class Lima truly is.
Not only do Lima's skills compare favorably to that of Mousasi, provided he can stay off his back, Lima is seemingly the fresher fighter riding a bigger swing of momentum, despite the fact that Mousasi is 9-1 since 2016 with wins over a who's who across the sport. Yet it remains to be seen at age 35, having faced an insane level of competition through a 55-bout career, whether Mousasi is slowing down just enough for Lima to catch him at the right time.
Mousasi seemed to accept a gift decision in his Bellator debut against former champion Alexander Shlemenko. And although he stopped Rafael Carvalho to win the title before destroying the overmatched MacDonald, Mousasi dropped his title to Lovato and hung on for a split-decision nod over Lyoto Machida in their rematch last September.
The fight between MacDonald and Mousasi became a bad idea for MacDonald the second it was apparent he couldn't weather the damage of Mousasi's thumping jab and much bigger frame. But should Lima prove more durable while able to demand respect from Mousasi by landing effective strikes, his combination of speed, technique and precision has all the makings to be too much.
Pick: Lima via UD5