Douglas Lima is among the best welterweights in the world and he finally gets to cement that status with a win over Rory MacDonald tomorrow at Bellator 192, writes Gareth A Davies.

We are with ‘The Phenom’ Douglas Lima, talking worries and concerns. Not of the fighting type, though. More of that in a minute. What’s crystal clear at first glance, when sitting up close and personal with the Bellator welterweight champion, is that opponents must be acutely aware, as they stand across a cage from the 29-year-old, that his reach and relaxed nature pose serious problems. Scarier still, he has looked good in recent years – with six of them spent in Bellator – and appears to only be getting better and better.

Yet, despite seeming to be at the peak of his powers, he starts his upcoming world title defense against Bellator’s newly-signed Rory MacDonald as a clear underdog, a sign of both the Canadian’s reputation and the fight’s quality. A win, Lima knows, and he can start to stake a claim to being the very best welterweight in the world, across both UFC and Bellator rosters.

There’s a lot of pressure, but not enough to cause him any sort of anxiety. In fact, ask Lima what he fears and you stand to receive a tangential response. It has nothing to do with facing any man in a combat arena. No, the first fear is one a little closer to home. “Spiders,” he explains to Fighters Only, laughing. “Stay away from me with those things. It’s is usually my wife who removes them. Look, fighting is easy.”

It’s not only spiders. There’s something else ‘The Phenom’ not so much fears, but could probably do without. “Interviews,” he says. “The trouble I have is speaking out. Interviews give me such a hard time. I get nervous. That’s something I really wish I could work on.”

He was once a man of very few words. But beneath the apprehension of the quiet man was someone who struck when the time was right and asked questions later. By his own admission, his demeanor is different when in fight mode. “Aah,” he says, “once I get inside there, it’s something else.”

Lima has a low resting heart rate and is calm, confident and every bit as comfortable on the ground as he is on his feet. All in all, not a lot, it seems, can rattle him. Even British knockout merchant Paul Daley, very good at riling his rivals, tried and failed.

“I’m pretty laid back,” Lima adds. “It’s going to be difficult to get under my skin. Nothing really bothers me. Stuff that really gets to me I stay away from. I know it’s terrible and my parents speak of it, but, man, I stay away from it. I don’t want to know about something that will bring me down.

“There was a point when I was injured where (Daley) said I was scared of him and backed out of the first fight… I was fighting with people on Twitter – people from his town. I’m always a calm guy.”

Now in his second reign as the 170lb king, if there’s anything that should strike fear into the hearts of men, it’s Lima himself. Since returning from injury, he has looked supreme, adding precision to terrifying, fight-ending power. After fighting smart to nullify and dominate Daley, he reacquired the title from Andrey Koreshkov with a conclusive third-round knockout, then looked every inch the accomplished mixed martial artist in his first defense against Lorenz Larkin at Madison Square Garden, New York.

Many now rate Lima as high as number four in the world, ahead of all but the elite of the UFC. But in the ultra-competitive Bellator 170lb division, some die-hards are hesitant to anoint him as the top dog until he boasts a win over The Red King on his résumé. It’s why ‘The Phenom’ is so determined to prove his superiority when he collides with the Canadian at The Forum, Inglewood on January 20th.

“I know many people consider Rory the best welterweight right now,” Lima says. “Beating a guy like him – when I beat him – people will definitely give me credit. I’m just here to fight. I don’t really care much about rankings. I know where I belong, where I stand: I know I can beat all of these guys. I’m proving that.

“I don’t think you can ever tell who the number one is, but I’ll tell you one thing: I deserve to be in the top five at least,” argues the heavy-handed fighter who has 24 finishes from 29 victories in a career which spans 11 years and 35 fights. “I can compete with any of those guys. My last fight (against Larkin) and my fight against Rory will show what I’m capable of and where I belong in the division.”

The MacDonald fight, in Lima’s mind, couldn’t have been timed better. “I’m pretty much in my prime right now,” he explains. “I’m going to be 30 when I fight him, and it’s going to be my 30th win. I really think the time is perfect. I’ve been through all these injuries and I feel more mature.”

Troubled by knee injuries, the momentum he needed to create, given his fluid, relaxed fighting style, was not there. But now he feels fresh and injury-free, and, mentally, that means everything. Physically, too, he appears to be in fearsome shape. Looking at his frame, it is staggering that Lima – long, lean and big-boned – is even able to make the welterweight limit of 170lb. It looks like it must be hell to make weight. Physically, he wouldn’t look out of place in the middleweight division, I suggest to him.

“I’m in shape most of the time,” he says. “I was expecting the fight to take place in November anyway, so I’ve stayed in shape for several months. The main thing is to stay healthy. Eight weeks out from the fight, I really get everything tightened up. I’m more strict on the diet. Right now, it’s about not getting too heavy. Cutting too much weight cost me a lot in the past. I got tired a little more than usual in fights.

“I’ve considered moving up to middleweight many times. I feel comfortable when I’m staying around 195-193lb between fights, and that’s amazing. Four months out from a fight and I’m at a weight like this. It’s just good. I felt better doing that for my last fight. I didn’t get tired. I cut less weight. Right now, I’m just focusing on staying a little lighter.”

Lima explains to Fighters Only that beating Rory MacDonald is not enough. He wants something more than that. Something even greater than that. “In my view, you’ve got to stay comfortable and at the same time look for the finish,” he says. “I don’t want this fight to go to a decision. I want to finish him and make a statement. I’m planning on doing it. I can’t wait to perform.”

So what does he have to do against MacDonald to get the job done? “Punch him really hard!” he answers, laughing.

“No, seriously, Rory always comes with a good game plan. Him and his team will probably want him to wrestle a lot – mix the strikes with the wrestling. I’ve just got to be ready to fight everywhere, defend those takedowns and hit him hard. Eventually, I’ll put him away. Believe me.”

Beneath the surface, with no pressure on him to make bold claims and predictions, Douglas Lima is a humble, grateful man. He was brought to the USA from Goiania, the central western region of Brazil, at the age of 11 along with his brother, Dhiego, for a better life. Throughout a happy upbringing in Atlanta, the young Lima often harbored dreams of fighting.

“I’ve always loved fighting and fight action, and as
a kid I loved action movies, those with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Bruce Lee,” he explains. “I was always playing around, play-fighting with my cousin and my brother. Truth is, I couldn’t get enough of it.” None of this led to involvement in organized martial arts in his homeland – the spiritual home of MMA.   

“Well, actually, I used to be really good at soccer,” he adds. “Growing up in Brazil, I always thought I’d be a soccer player for a living until I came here to America. I used to be an attacking player, a forward. I used to score goals. I was only 10 or 11, but I used to be pretty decent at it. As a kid that was my dream. I wanted to fight and train, of course, but soccer really was my dream career as a kid.

“Back home in Brazil I never had a chance to train MMA properly. The first thing I did when I came to America was find a gym, and I just fell in love with it. It came naturally to me.”

Having a brother close in age and weight also meant Douglas was blessed with a live-in training and sparring partner. “Because we grew up in the same weight class, same size, and could train together all the time, that helped,” he says. “It’s a good bond, too, with your brother in the gym, helping each other. Ever since we started training, all the arguments stopped. It’s crazy how much closer you get when you train. I can’t explain it.”

The bond Douglas has with his brother leads to possibly the only anxiety he feels in the fight game – watching Dhiego trying to make an impact in the UFC. Douglas finds it tough. So tough, in fact, it has informed his thoughts on whether or not he’d let his own children fight for a living.

“Watching my brother fight is the worst thing,” he says. “It takes years off of my life. And given how it affects me when he fights, I don’t want to go through that with my kids.

“But it’s their choice. I’m not going to stop them. If they want to fight, they can fight.

“I think I’m with most other professional fighters when I say I definitely don’t want my kids to fight. To train, for sure. Both of them will train. My girl is four and my boy is two. I want both of them to learn how to defend themselves and punch hard if somebody comes at them.”

He’d also want them to learn about the other benefits of being trained as a martial artist. The sacrifice, the discipline, the respect. Indeed, during a period in MMA when trash-talkers are having a field day and rising up the pole, Lima chooses to stay true to his core belief that professional fighting is a job, a way of existence, and should be treated as such.

“I think the respect that comes with martial arts is very important,” he says. “That’s something I want to pass on to my kids.”

As a Bellator mainstay, someone who has been part of the promotion through the Bjorn Rebney years and now the Scott Coker/Viacom era, Lima feels no pressure to act up and betray his beliefs. He has instead elected to let his feet and fists do the talking. It has served him well so far. Six years into his Bellator run, he’s one of their top attractions.

“I’ve pretty much been growing with the company,” he says. “But I loved it when Scott came in. Everything is just so much better. The shows are bigger. Even financially everything is getting better. I’m very thankful to be here facing tough challenges and getting my name out there.”

Beat Rory MacDonald and the name Douglas Lima will be on the lips of every fan in fight sports.

This article first appeared in the January edition of Fighters Only. Sign up for a free digital subscription by filling in the form on this page.