Former MFC champ eager to begin quest for Bellator gold
“I knew I fought the same date before, but I didn’t know who it was. I looked it up and it was Ryan. It’s funny, man,” laughed the 23-year-old, speaking to HeavyMMA earlier in the week.
Lima has earned his standing as someone to watch over his last three fights, starting with his upset victory over Ford. Two months later, the American Top Team Atlanta product claimed the MFC welterweight title with a third round submission win over Jesse Juarez. As impressive as those two performances were, it was his first title defense that really made people stand up and take notice.
In April, Lima scorched UFC veteran Terry Martin with a blistering right hand, stopping the fight in just 74 seconds and extending his winning streak to six. It was an eye-opening performance, and one that Lima hopes will silence some of his critics.
“It was important for people to see. Some [people in the media] before called me one-dimensional fighter, but I’m an MMA fighter; I train all of it. It’s just that the fights they’ve seen, I couldn’t show what I have standing.
“Every fight is different. Terry Martin was the perfect opponent for me to show off my striking skills; he’s a striker and doesn’t like the ground. I had to try it out and see what was going to happen. I’m glad it turned out that way.”
Coming off such an emphatic performance in the main event of the MFC’s debut event in Ontario, Lima caught everyone off guard by jumping ship and joining Bellator for their upcoming fifth season.
“It was better for my career at this point, financially and with everything else. They gave me a good offer,” said Lima back in May shortly after the move was announced. The tournament field and pairings had yet to be finalized then, but the lineup for the September 10 fight card was made official last week.
Lima faces Steve Carl in the opening round. The two are joined by fellow Brazilian Luis “Sapo” Santos, UFC alum Ben Saunders, and Bellator veterans Dan Hornbuckle, Rick Hawn and Brett Weedman in the field of eight. Now that he knows who he will be facing, Lima has started doing his homework and counting down the days until he can get back into the cage.
“I watched a couple videos on him. I watched what I could. He seems like a tough fighter; he’s strong, he’s got a good base in wrestling – most fighters do – but he’s just going to be a tough opponent. I like competition like that.
“The guy has a great record,” Lima continued. “He’s 14-2. I can’t wait to get in there and test myself against him. I think it’s going to be a great match. I’m looking forward to it.
“I can’t wait to see who the next guy is, but I’m not looking passed Steve Carl. I’m training hard for him; he’s my main concern right now. After him, we’ll see what happens.”
Unlike the Strikeforce heavyweightg grand prix where the eight competitors were slotted into two four-man brackets, the second round pairings for this tournament have yet to be determined. No matter who he’s matched up with next, the talented 18-4 fighter knows everyone in the field is dangerous.
“Man, I got no idea how they’re going to play this out, how they’re going to match up the winners,” laughed Lima. “I actually think every guy is good; I don’t think anybody is going to have an easy fight. This is the top of the group in Bellator. I can’t wait to see what happens.”
Depending on how the other opening round bouts play out, Lima could get the opportunity to avenge one of his losses.
Fellow tournament hopeful Brett Weedman handed Lima the second loss of his career, earning a submission win when they met in May 2008. He made it to the semifinals of the Season 4 tournament before losing a close split decision to eventual winner Jay Hieron, a loss that put an end to his ten-fight winning streak.
Though he’s not fixated on facing Weedman again, Lima would certainly welcome the chance to even the score, an opportunity he believes every fighter would relish.
“Well sure, I think every fighter wants a rematch with somebody they’ve lost to before,” admitted Lima about the possibility of facing Weedman at some point in the tournament. “If both of us get through, I don’t know if they’re going to match us up second or see if both of us keep winning and have it happen in the final. Either way, [this tournament] should be good; it should be good for my career.”
Three of the eight contestants have been through the Bellator tournament format before. Weedman made last season’s semifinals, and Hornbuckle and Hawn advanced to the finals in previous seasons. Though they’ve been through the process before, Lima doesn’t see the trio of Bellator tournament veterans having any kind of advantage heading into September’s opening round.
“Not really; I don’t think there is any advantage in that part. I’ve been there before. I think I’ve fought twice in a month before; it’s the same deal. When I’m fighting, I usually take a week off, maybe a little more, but I’m always active, always training. This is going to be good because I’m already in shape after the first fight. It should be a little easier.
“I think for me its better,” said Lima of the potential to fight three times in three months. “I like to keep fighting; I like to keep training, to stay in shape. The more I keep fighting the better for me.”
He’s pegged, at least in some circles, as a tournament favorite. Some could get caught up in the hype and such a rapid climb to recognition, but Lima has remained grounded and uses the attention and support as motivation to keep getting better.
“People are getting more familiar with me, and I’m flattered. I love that my name is out there; it feels like the hard work is paying off. The only change it did to me is make me train even harder. People expect to see good things from me, so I gotta keep training hard so not to let them down.
“That’s my main concern is to put up the fight that I want; I want people to keep looking out for me. I believe in myself that I’m going to do it. My name is going to keep growing.
“Its good. I like that people think I’m the favorite going into the tournament, but I don’t think like that. To myself I do, but I’ve gotta just look at one fight at a time. Every fight, I fight like it’s my last one, and this one is no different.
“I’m glad I’m the favorite going in in the eyes of a couple of people, but that’s no extra pressure. It’s just good that people have seen my work and think I can win. I just want to win.”
He’s still got two months to wait before he can try and extend his winning streak, and Lima can hardly wait. He’s hungry and ready to continue validating his “star on the rise” standing, and cap off what has been an excellent year.
“It’s the date that put my name out there more and I want to repeat it and do it again. I want to win in a good fashion, so people can really see that I’m for real.”