Douglas Lima might be the most underrated champion in the world and Rory MacDonald has big plans for his future. Who will take gold on Saturday?
In 2017, free agents debuted in a big way for Bellator. Several notable fighters known for their time in the UFC made their move to the Bellator cage and in 2018 we are already beginning to see them participate in the title fights that we hoped for when the signings began. In what is the biggest “UFC vs Bellator” fight since 2016, welterweight champion Douglas Lima will be putting his belt on the line against perennial top contender Rory MacDonald.
At age 30, Douglas Lima is an established veteran of the Bellator cage who is arguably among the most dominant fighters in the history of their promotion. Since making his debut in 2011 during the Season 5 welterweight tournament, Lima has lost only twice. Once was to long time champion and undefeated welterweight Ben Askren, and the second was to Andrey Koreshkov against whom he was injured going into the fight. He would later avenge the loss to Koreshkov in one of his best performances, winning by KO. The victory at that point was only the latest in a resume filled with knockouts and TKOs.
His last outing was highly criticized as he defended his title against promotional newcomer Lorenz Larkin. Larkin was known for being a top ten ranked fighter in the UFC and coming off a two fight win-streak. Anticipation for the fight was high as both men stylistically liked to strike with their opponents and look for a knockout. Instead, the bout took a slower, more methodical pace that ended in a decision win for Lima.
Despite this, Lima signed a two year, six-fight contract with Bellator and immediately finds himself in the most high profile bout of his career. Rory MacDonald entered Bellator late last year after challenging for the championship in the UFC and being one of the top prospects in the welterweight division. Despite his impressive resume, he made the decision to test free agency and sign with Bellator, which at the time was one of the most high profile signings of the year. Other signees at the time were considered to have reached their ceiling in the UFC, but at 28 years old, MacDonald was just entering the prime of his career.
By all accounts, “The Red King” had a memorable UFC run. When he entered the promotion he was the youngest fighter on the roster. At just 20 years old, and in only his second UFC fight, he fought a close battle with Carlos Condit in a bout many felt he was winning until the final ten seconds. His suplex filled thrashing of Nate Diaz was so dominant that it forced Diaz to go back down to the lightweight division. He is also the last fighter to defeat current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, a bout in which he handled the current champion fairly easily.
From early in his career he was promoted to be the heir apparent to welterweight legend Georges St-Pierre. In 2015, with GSP seemingly retired, he had his opportunity to ascend to champion when he fought Robbie Lawler. Their battle stands as one of the best championship fights in history as both men had their moments throughout the fight. MacDonald would give Lawler his bloody and now infamous thousand yard stare between rounds, but in the final frame he would succumb to the incredible amount of damage as “Ruthless” retained his title.
MacDonald wouldn’t fight until a year later, losing a one-sided bout to Stephen Thompson in which many felt he appeared timid after his title losing effort. He would enter the Bellator cage a little under a year later where he would dominate knockout artist Paul Daley to earn a title shot.
Stylistically, the bout will likely be determined by how effective MacDonald is in closing the distance to get Lima to the ground. “The Red King” is known for fighting at a very slow and measured pace where he slips and counters with great effectiveness and efficiency. That style will play perfectly for Lima who is known for pushing the action and taking more risks on the feet, and just as known for delivering damage. MacDonald struggles with fighters who can overpower him on the feet, and Lima’s proficiency as a striker on paper will likely give him trouble.
The key for MacDonald will be to take the fight to the ground, where he is known for using elbows and powerful ground-and-pound to open up his opponents for submissions. MacDonald’s prowess on the ground is the greatest of any Lima opponent since Ben Askren. The Canadian’s best route to victory is on the ground where the champion’s striking is neutralized. If Lima can avoid ending up on the mat, he has the ability to wear down the challenger with strikes and quite possibly set up a finish.
The world championship is on the line, but there is reputation on the line for both men as well. For Douglas Lima, a victory over one of the most recognized welterweights of the last several years and a star for the UFC raises his profile going forward. For Rory MacDonald, a Bellator championship goes a long way toward making the second chapter of his career better than the first. With Bellator growing bigger than ever, there could be even more than a strap of gold on the line with a victory.