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The Bellator MMA welterweight grand prix comes to a head on Saturday night at Bellator 232 when the promotion hits the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Bellator 232’s main event sees reigning welterweight champion Rory “Red King” MacDonald defend his title against his foe Douglas “The Phenom” Lima in a highly-anticipated rematch after both men made it through the tournament unscathed.

The pair first faced off almost two years ago. In January 2018, Lima and MacDonald spent 25 minutes engaging in a brutal back-and-forth bout which saw the latter emerge the winner, earning the nod from the judges and Lima’s title in the process.

The Canadian may have left Bellator 192 with the Brazilian’s belt, but he was made to pay for it.

MacDonald’s cerebral gameplan of seeking to take the fight down to the floor for some ground and pound was what ultimately swayed the judges in his favour.

However, it’s inarguable Lima caused the most damage. In fact, MacDonald had to be carried out of the cage and was taken directly to hospital after the pair’s five-round war.

Rory MacDonald's shin after Bellator 192 his fight with Douglas Lima at Bellator

Lima chewed up MacDonald’s lead leg with vicious kicks at range. That lower body work saw Lima score a late third-round knockdown as MacDonald’s legs gave out from underneath him. The end result saw MacDonald’s left leg looking like it had a footballer’s shin pad tucked under its skin.

Somehow, Red King managed to force his body to continue on fighting and came away with the spoils after displaying a terrific level of heart and determination.

After his hard-fought win, the then-29-year-old said of Lima: “He’s the best fighter I’ve ever fought. Easy. I came in at my very best from my entire career. I never felt so good. This guy gave me challenges everywhere.

“It was an honour competing with him. I definitely feel like the best in the world after fighting that guy.”

Given the respective abilities of this pair, it was inevitable a mouth-watering rematch was on the horizon. Thankfully for us, we get to see a second iteration of the original epic this weekend.

Both MacDonald and Lima had to wade through some choppy waters to get to this rematch.

After snatching Bellator gold from Lima’s grasp, MacDonald attempted to become the promotion’s first ever two-division champion. Unfortunately for him, he met a brick wall in then-Bellator middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi, who handed MacDonald the third knockout loss of his career.

Then, it was time for the Bellator welterweight grand prix.

The tournament got off to an uncertain start for the champion. MacDonald retained his belt and advanced in his bracket with a majority draw against wily veteran Jon Fitch in April.

“I don’t know what to say. I landed some good stuff in there. It’s hard sometimes to pull the trigger now, I guess,” MacDonald said in his post-fight interview.

“I don’t have that killer inside. I don’t know. It’s really hard to explain but I hesitate a little bit now. I don’t know what to say. It wasn’t my best performance.”

Rumours of retirement surrounded the fighting future of MacDonald after his draw against Fitch came off the back of his humbling defeat to Mousasi.

But the Canadian did return for the grand prix semi-final. He took on Brazil’s unbeaten Neiman Gracie and once again displayed his powerful ground game against a talented grappler on his way to five-round unanimous decision – snapping his winless run of two fights.

On the other side of the tournament bracket, Lima has looked in fine form.

In the opening round, The Phenom took on former Bellator welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov for the third time – almost two years after knocking him out to win the title when they first fought.

Lima once again finished the Russian in their rubber match. Though, this time it was a submission which did the trick as the American Top Team product put Koreshkov to sleep with a rear-naked choke at 3:04 of the fifth round – one of the latest stoppages in Bellator history.

Next up for Lima was Michael “Venom” Page, who was fresh off a disappointing decision win over Paul Daley. Page was unbeaten going into the fight and was full of confidence before succumbing to a knockout loss.

Page was on the advance but had his legs taken from underneath him with a chopping leg kick. In one swift motion, Lima uncorked a hellacious right uppercut on Page’s head as he was half-downed – knocking the Englishman out cold.

Lima’s impressive performances en route to the tournament final – a fight for both the Bellator championship and $1million – have rightly filled him with confidence. However, he is expecting the very best Rory MacDonald in the cage after seeing Red King’s dominance over Gracie last time out.

“I’m expecting the best of him,” Lima told Bloody Elbow. I know people say he looks different and that he’s not fighting the same way. I believe he’s still got it. That Fitch fight was a very close, very tough fight. That’s not an easy fight for anybody. Jon Fitch is a just a tough gamer.

“MacDonald pretty much dominated his last fight against Gracie. He looked really good. He got in trouble a couple of times there, but I think he’ll be at his best for this fight. I know he knows how dangerous of a fight this is for both of us.”

Bellator 232 will see two of the world’s best welterweights fighting for the biggest spoils of their respective careers and in a rematch between two well-matched, respectful foes.

Can MacDonald make the third defence of his championship? Or will Lima become the first Bellator fighter to be crowned champion for a third time in the promotion. Regardless, if this fight on Saturday night is anything like the first, we’re in for a real treat.

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