Fascinating middleweight clash between Mousasi and Lima takes place live on Sky Sports tonight
Douglas Lima feels big, beaming, and brimming with confidence stepping into the biggest and most taxing challenge of his fighting career tonight at Bellator 250 as the fight league’s welterweight king steps up a division in a bold move to usurp the vacant middleweight throne.
The Gegard Mousasi challenge is the greatest of the Bellator welterweight champion’s career. Bar none. Legacy fight. He knows it, accepts it, relishes it. Lockdown has even given the Brazilian based in Georgia the opportunity to “grow into” the division. “Oh, this is huge. I think I’d put Gegard at the top of the list of guy’s I have fought, for sure. He’s fought the who’s who of MMA,” Lima told The Telegraph in an exclusive interview this week.
Lima, thoughtful at the best of times, ponders a moment. “I think he finished Mark Hunt? Not someone to take lightly. That’s the fights I want, challenges. Even a guy as big as Mousasi, that’s the kind of fight I want. I’m here to prove I’m top of the division and will fight anybody. Not only to everyone else, but to myself. That’s what a fighter is. Go for the big challenges.”
Legacy fight ? “For sure, I know this is definitely the biggest fight of my career, and the performance must match. Every second, of every minute, of every round…” added Lima, whose attempt at being a Bellator two-weight world champion is live on Sky Sports Arena from midnight tonight in the UK.
We are back to that Gegard resume: victories over Hunt, Melvin Manhoef, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and on and on… all the way back to 2003, even though the man born in Iran is only 35 years old.
“It’s important he’s got victories over guys like Hunt and all the rest of those big names,” offers Lima. “I know he’s a top level fighter and is not scared of going in there with anybody. I’ve got to be on top of myself every second. I can’t mess up because one little moment can change the whole game. He’s probably not going to be nervous at all. He won’t be worried about anything.”
“I’ve got to be top of my game and be ready for whatever he brings. He’ll be in there with another top fighter, taking me lightly would be a big mistake. I’m sure he’ll be ready. I’m just excited for the challenge, for the calibre of fight we are in.”
They even sparred together, on a single day, in The Netherlands, when Lima was visiting friends in Europe. He did not take anything from it. “Not really. I was out of shape and it was a last minute thing we did. I went there and trained but I wasn’t in shape. I didn’t even know, it was a surprise and Mousasi was there in top shape preparing for his first fight in Bellator [against Alexander Schlemenko]. I had a round or two with him and I got killed. When I’m training I’m not trying to test myself against anyone because training I’m the gym and fighting in the cage is two different things. He was ready to fight. I never expected to fight him that day. I was there to have a good time and get a sweat on.”
They met, of course, in New York to promote the fight in March this year, just a week before the world changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lima sized Mousasi up then, even more so than their solitary sparring day.
Does Lima see weaknesses in Mousasi ? “It could go five rounds but the goal is to finish. Mousasi is such a tough guy it’s very rare you see people finish him. He’s solid. I have to be on top of my game. I have to find a way to win because I don’t see any weakness there. He’s a good striker, great wrestler, really good on the ground when he’s on top. The guy is good everywhere, what am I going to do? My striking needs to be sharp. My wrestling needs to be good, my takedown defence too.”
Lima went on, describing the task ahead of him.
“He’s probably going to have some weight advantage so I can’t have him taking me down, it can’t happen. I’ve got to be really careful of his ground and pound. I’ve got to be prepared for everything. He’ll be ready for my kicks. I can finish the fight in a second and so can he. It’ll be a technical fight but at the same time it’ll be a war. I’ll be looking for the finish as I always too. I’ll throw hard and throw some bombs. I feel great at middleweight. I don’t think I’ll be too small. My confidence is good. I’m ready for the best of him.”
It has been a time of development for Lima, who opened a new gym with his brother Dhiego during lockdown. American Top Team, Team Lima, is the establishment just outside Atlanta, Georgia. “We opened it during the pandemic. As soon as the government allowed us to do it, we did it. It’s actually much better than we expected despite the pandemic. Business is good. It’s a little bit slower than it would usually be, but we can’t complain.”
It seems, even, that people are thinking more about fitness to combat COVID-19. “The healthier you are the better chance you have of beating coronavirus. That’s how people look at it. Everybody is training and in the gym. If you want to wear a mask, do it. Classes are going fine and some of them are big. Everything is going good and we can’t complain.”
Mousasi, meanwhile, is typically relaxed about the challenge, having had a year of “having grown a lot”. There has been a challenge previously from the Bellator welterweight king. Mousasi dealt with Canadian Rory Macdonald imperiously. Lima is no lightweight challenge, and Gegard knows it… and weight, he insisted to The Telegraph, is not the decisive factor.
“I don’t take him lightly. You have Kelvin Gastelum and Robert Whittaker who are championship material and are welterweights. Five pounds won’t decide whether he wins or not. I’ve fought light heavyweights, against Mark Hunt who was like 50 pounds heavier than me, maybe even more. Weight is not a decisive factor. If we’re talking wrestling and grappling, yeah i have an advantage. But it’s not clear cut.”
“Obviously I’m the bigger guy so I should be able to deal with him. I expect it. I’ve trained with him and seen his fights so I clearly know what he’s going to do and what to expect. He’s very confident in his abilities. He is the champion so he has that mentality and experience. What can I say? He’s an all rounder. I expect a tough fight.”
But then the rub from Mousasi. “Having said that – anybody who faces me, it’s going to be a problem for them.”
Intriguingly, the middleweight belt is not the crux for the former champion at 185lbs. “I haven’t even talked about the belt once. I’m only focused on Douglas Lima and myself. If I fight the way I’ve trained, I think I’ll shock a lot of people.”
“Sitting at home, having no goals – it’s not nice. I’m focused on beating Douglas and then on fighting a lot. I don’t know if that’s possible but I’ll be talking to Scott about having a fight every two or three times.” Then there is another suggestion … a boxing match. “I’m open to boxing. I think this year, this lay off, the only thing that made me better is I’m a lot more confident in my abilities and what I can do. I think I’ve grown a lot.”
But the job against the looming Lima must be completed first. Game on for two elite fighters, in what is certain to be an intriguing physical chess match of the highest order.
Bellator 250: Mouasasi vs. Lima is live on Sky Sports Arena at 12am tonight Thurs/Fri in the UK