Douglas Lima not long ago was one of the top fighters on the Bellator MMA roster at any weight, and aside from a five-round decision loss to the unbeaten Ben Askren, he had been virtually untouchable.
Between Oct. 10, 2009 and April 18, 2014, Lima recorded 14 wins in 15 appearances, 11 of them by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Former World Series of Fighting champion Steve Carl and Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans Ben Saunders (twice), Clint Hester and Terry Martin were all defeated by the Brazilian welterweight; and at Bellator 117, Lima captured promotional gold at 170 pounds with a second-round TKO on onetime Olympian Rick Hawn.
Then disaster struck. Lima injured his knee while preparing to defend the title against Paul Daley, and a series of setbacks kept him away from the cage for more than a year.
“All that time spent trying to get better was very frustrating,” he told Sherdog.com. “It was very depressing because all I wanted to do was get better, train properly and, of course, fight. I saw a lot of doctors, and some said I would never actually be able to do this career ever again. They said my career was over. I was scared.”
Lima upon recovering climbed back in the cage after some 15 months on the shelf; he maintains he was less than 100 percent. In his first title defense, “The Phenom” was controlled and essentially dominated by Russian powerhouse Andrey Koreshkov across five rounds at Bellator 140. Lima failed to get anything of substance going, lost a lopsided unanimous decision and surrendered his championship.
Now fully healed and backed by the momentum of his unanimous decision victory over Daley on July 16, Lima has placed his focus on a familiar target. He will challenge Koreshkov for the welterweight championship in the Bellator 164 main event on Thursday (online betting) at Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel. Lima has had the rematch circled on his figurative calendar for nearly a year and a half and believes the outcome will be vastly different this time, as he fully intends to recapture the championship that was once his.
“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling so much better than our first fight,” he said. “I’m healthy now, and I’ve had a full camp. Everything feels really good, and I’m ready to go. I was fighting on pretty much 30 percent of a leg that first time, but whatever; I’m sick of making excuses. I’ll show him and the world what a 100 percent Douglas Lima can do to him.
“I’ve had a full camp, like I said before, and this means that I was actually able to work on my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu [and] my striking,” Lima added. “I’m coming into this fight much more confident because I’ve been able to do all of my homework and I’ve worked on everything.”
The former champion has not had to look hard for motivation.
“He still has the belt,” Lima said. “He’s the guy who took it away from me, and I want to go over [to Israel] and beat him; but I don’t want to just beat him. I want to finish him. I don’t want to leave it with the judges. I’m prepared to go five hard rounds, but I don’t want to have to. I want to bring my belt back home.”
Koreshkov, who finds himself on a six-fight winning streak, was still something of an unknown after he defeated Lima. However, he raised his profile substantially at Bellator 153 in April, when he outclassed and thrashed former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting champion Benson Henderson for five rounds. Lima claims he saw it coming.
“The fans and media now know that he is really good, but I’ve always known that,” he said. “I know a good fighter when I see one. He’s got a great record and I knew that he was going to beat Ben Henderson, but now the fans know him and they know more about Bellator. I am excited to know that when I beat Andrey, the fans will then know me that well. I mean, he beat a really good UFC guy and most of the fans are just now [getting to] know how good he is because they still have this UFC-only mentality. Yeah, Andrey is very good.”
Lima spent his training camp at American Top Team Atlanta, where he sharpened his skills under Roan Carneiro and alongside younger brother Dhiego Lima. He sounds confident in his preparation.
“I can’t wait to go to Israel,” Lima said. “Being able to spend time in that part of the world will be so much better knowing that I’ll finally have my belt back. It’ll be like a great vacation for me.”