After three grueling months, it all comes down to this.
Former MFC welterweight champion Douglas Lima has navigated a field of eight talented welterweights to make it to the Bellator season five tournament finals. He outgrappled Steve Carl in the quarterfinals and his one-punch knockout of Chris Lozano was one of 2011's finest finishes.
Standing in his way will be former UFC standout and fellow student of American Top Team affiliate, Ben Saunders, a fighter who's shown that he can be equally dangerous both standing and on the ground in this tournament.
At just 23 years old, Lima will be in a position on Saturday night (November 12, 2011) at Bellator 57 to live up to the hype of his "Phenom" nickname, earn $100,000 and then challenge Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren for the title in 2012.
There's a lot on the line and Lima spoke with MMAmania.com about his success in the tournament thus far, dealing with what Ben Saunders brings to the cage and who he thinks really won the recent Ben Askren vs. Jay Hieron title fight two weeks ago in this exclusive interview.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your first fight in this tournament was a tough fight against Steve Carl and you earned a hard fought decision victory but then the last fight against Chris Lozano, you came out and had one of the best knockouts of the year. How did that feel to go out there, especially because you got hurt early in the stand-up to Steve Carl, that you went out and knocked Lozano out cold?
Douglas Lima: Yeah man, I think in that Steve Carl match-up, the punch that he landed in the beginning, that changed the whole fight for me. Man I was dazed, during the whole fight I was dazed. He threw it in the perfect place, it hit me in the sweet spot right behind the ear and man there was nothing I could do. I'm just happy I was able to recover and be able to fight the rest of that fight because it was really difficult to recover. As far as Chris Lozano, that fight went great. I felt comfortable standing and the gameplan with him was not to stand in front of him and choose my shots better. It worked out great and I was able to finish the fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Considering your jiu-jitsu credentials, and now that your stand-up is improving so much, did that knockout give you a lot of confidence for this fight coming up against Ben Saunders?
Douglas Lima: Definitely, it definitely does. A win like that gets you pumped up. Yeah, I'm confident wherever the fight goes against Saunders. He's a tough opponent but I think I'm prepared. I'm ready. I'm ready for anything he's got.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you have any concerns at all? Now that this is the finals, he's allowed to use his elbows and those seem to be his most lethal weapon and he's been able to go out and dominate fights and finish fights without using them. Are you worried about those elbows at all?
Douglas Lima: Not really. I know he uses leg kicks and he uses his reach very good but I've been training myself for a long time and I'll be prepared for that. I've just got to be sure to be ready to fight standing or on the ground. There's no reason to be concerned or scared of anything. We are fighters, we all fight hard and it's gonna be a good one.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What do you think of Ben Saunders' ground game? Especially in his last fight, he showcased some of the best use of rubber guard I've ever seen used in an MMA fight.
Douglas Lima: Yeah, it looked awesome and I know he's been working on it and in the short term he really improved it. That's what it is man. Ben Saunders is good everywhere. In MMA you can't only a striker or a wrestler or a jiu-jitsu guy, you've got to be good everywhere and Ben is no different. It looked very good against Santos. His guard was very good, very flexible and he's been doing the right things and I've been doing the same thing as well, improving everywhere. You've got to be ready for it all.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you guys don't train together, but you do both train at American Top Team gyms. Is it different at all fighting a guy who represents the same team?
Douglas Lima: Not really man. I know we're both Top Team but he fights in Coconut Creek while I'm in Georgia. I've never trained with him or anybody from his gym so it's not gonna make any difference. We're both great fighters and we're both professionals. We're gonna go in there and fight hard. We represent the same school but as long as we don't train together, it'll be ok and I'm not worried about that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you tell me what it would mean for you to win this tournament? You've had two great performances so far but what would it mean to go out there and be the best out of these eight talented guys that Bellator picked up?
Douglas Lima: It means everything man. That's what I came to Bellator for. I want to be a champion there. It means a lot. I'm training very hard. Very, very hard and I've dedicated all my time to the camp preparing myself and it means the world to me right now. This is the most important fight so far in my career and I can't wait to go out there and do what I've been doing. I'm gonna win this fight no matter what.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): WIth you and Ben, you both have strong striking, you're both also dangerous on the ground. Where do you think you would have the best advantage in the fight against him?
Douglas Lima: Well we'll just have to find out. I can't tell you exactly what my advantages are but I'm just prepared for everything, both the ground and the striking. No matter who I'm fighting against, I'm gonna fight hard. We'll just have to find out. I don't see anything yet but we'll find out once those cage doors close. You know?
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned how badly you wanted to be the champion and Bellator welterweight titleholder Ben Askren just defended his belt against Jay Hieron in a really close split decision fight. What was your take on his performance for that fight?
Douglas Lima: I think it was close. It was really close. Jay Hieron did a great job and it could have gone either way but Ben did what he does. He took the guy down and got him on the ground and held him there. He looked good and comfortable. Of course I'm thinking about Ben Saunders right now, not Askren, I'm not worried about that but soon I will. When the time comes, we're gonna do it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Who did you think won the fight between Askren and Hieron? There's been debate about that because it was close.
Douglas Lima: Honestly, in my opinion, I think Hieron won it just because he did more damage. I'm not really sure he was gonna be the winner but you know how they say to be the champion, you've got to beat the champion. Maybe that was the difference but in my opinion, Hieron won. He landed the better shots. That's why you've got to hate decisions man. Decisions are not good and I just can't stand them. If you get a chance to finish the fight, you've got to finish or otherwise stuff like that happens all the time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I spoke with your brother a few weeks back before he got injured. I was wondering what the status of Dhiego's injury? I know he was really excited to be getting back in there for MFC.
Douglas Lima: Yeah, he got hurt and he wasn't able to fight but everything is going good now. He's back training and he's going to be ready for his next fight. If I'm not mistaken, I think January is the next card and he should find out an answer for sure in the next few weeks. He's back to normal now and he should be fighting in January.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Alright, that's all I've got Douglas, but before I let you go, how would you like the fight to finish against Ben Saunders on Saturday?
Douglas Lima: This Saturday, I just want to finish the fight. I don't like decisions. I've said it before and I won't want a decision no matter what. If it goes to a decision, I'll live but if I fight him in the stand-up, I want to knock him out and if it goes to the ground, I'm gonna try to tap him out. That's what I want to do. I don't want to leave it to the judges and I just can't wait man. I'm very excited, I'm pumped, I'm ready and we should find out who's best really soon.
Douglas would like to thank his team at American Top Team Atlanta, his coach "Jucao" Roan Carneiro, his brother Dhiego, all his other training partners and his management SuckerPunch Entertainment. Also, he'd like to thank to all his sponsors Clinch Gear, Dom Fight Gear, Era Fight Wear, X-Box, Halo Anniversary, Allmax Nutrition, Kill Cliff and everybody that's been helping him out. Lastly he'd like to thank the fans.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Lima rise to the occasion on Saturday night and win the Bellator season five welterweight tournament? Or will the buzzsaw that is Ben Saunders be too much for the young fighter?