Less than 30 seconds into his fight with Steve Carl, Douglas Lima was in trouble.

Carl had rocked Lima with an overhand right that could have spelled the beginning of the end for “The Phenom’s” run in the Bellator season five welterweight tournament.

“He connected early, that kind of screwed my game up,” Lima explained to The MMA Corner. “I was dazed throughout the whole fight.”

While Lima might have been staggered, he was far from out. The American Top Team product relied on his instincts to survive and quickly reversed the tide, gaining top position after Carl charged in for the finish. Lima even battled back to earn all three rounds on two of the judges’ scorecards en route to a unanimous decision win.

“It was a tough match, I’m glad I got through it,” Lima said. “It’s not that he was tougher than I expected, it’s just that he landed that punch.

Lima attempts to submit Steve Carl via armbar (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“I was dazed. Every punch he was throwing from the guard, I was feeling it. My head, everything’s shaking. It was difficult to fight when dazed like that. I was just happy I was able to continue. Everything worked out fine for me.”

The Bellator 49 fight with Carl marked the beginning of Lima’s quest to conquer the tournament’s eight-man bracket. With one win behind him, he returned to the cage less than a month later on Oct. 8 at Bellator 53 to lock horns with Chris Lozano in the tournament’s semi-final round. While Steve Carl represented a threat on the ground, Lima faced a significantly different challenge in Lozano. “The Cleveland Assassin” had put away seven of his opponents via some form of knockout. However, that didn’t discourage Lima from trading leather with Lozano.

“I picked my shots right, it worked out great,” Lima explained. “I didn’t stand in front of him or he probably would have been able to connect a lot more. It’s just a smart game plan.

“I don’t want to run away from the striking match against a guy like that. (I’m) trying to prove that I can stand with strikers. I knew I had power, and I knew if I connected anybody can go down. It’s not that I have the one-punch KO, I think everybody’s like that – if you connect in the right place, they’re going to go down.”

In the end, Lima’s decision to stand proved to be the right one, as the Atlanta native scored a second-round knockout to earn his way to the tournament finals.

Now, a much bigger challenge lies in wait for the former Maximum Fighting Championship welterweight champion. After facing a grappler and a striker in his first two tourney outings, Lima will now encounter an opponent who has proved himself a threat both on the feet and on the mat, UFC veteran Ben Saunders. Lima squares off with Saunders on Saturday at Bellator 57 in Rama, Ontario, Canada.

“I’m pumped,” proclaimed Lima. “I’m ready. I’m feeling really comfortable. I think I can win this fight wherever it takes place, either standing or on the ground. I just got to go over there and do the right game plan, do what I’ve been doing in training, and I’m sure I’ll get the victory.”

Lima (R) connects with a left hand against Chris Lozano (Bellator)

While Lima is confident that he can defeat Saunders, he respects his opponent. Rather than talk trash, he’s willing to let his skills inside the cage do the talking for him come Saturday.

“I’m not going to talk down his game, saying I’m better than him at this or at that. That, we’re going to find out on fight night.”

Despite 24 professional fights over the span of a little more than five years competing in the sport, Lima is quite likely staring down the stiffest test of his career when he faces Saunders on Nov. 12.

“(He’s) a tough opponent,” said Lima. “It’s good to fight a guy like that because he’s more experienced, as far as fighting bigger fights. He’s fought bigger, tougher opponents. I think that’s going to be very important for me. I like to take challenges like that.”

Those bigger, tougher opponents include the likes of perennial UFC welterweight contender Jon Fitch and UFC mainstay Mike Swick. Stepping into the cage with Saunders will provide Lima with the ultimate trial of his readiness for high-caliber competition.

“I know I can stand there with anybody in the world,” Lima confessed. “It makes me feel good that I’m fighting somebody like that. I want to prove myself to the world, that I can stand there with anybody.

“I’m still young, still learning, but I believe in my team and I know that my training is going perfect. I’ll be ready for him and for anybody that comes my way.”

Lima has been forced to settle for one decision already during the course of this tournament, but he’s willing to take any route necessary against Saunders to earn his way to a title bid against reigning Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren.

“I don’t personally like decisions, but I’ll take it if I have to, but I want to finish this fight no matter what,” Lima said. “I’m going to try my hardest to finish it. I’m going to fight hard, give the fans a great match. Hopefully, everybody can enjoy it. That’s the game plan: Finish the fight.”

While a title tilt against Askren is the prize awaiting the winner of Saturday’s contest, Lima is not willing to start thinking about that match-up just yet. Just as quickly as Carl’s overhand right could have halted Lima’s progress in the tournament, overlooking an opponent as dangerous as Saunders could also spell doom for the 23-year-old.

“I’ll be sure to be prepared for him whenever the time comes, but for right now I’m just focusing on Ben Saunders,” said Lima. “I’ll focus on that fight later on. First, I got to go through Saunders, then I’ll think about Askren.”

Lima walks away after scoring the KO of Lozano (Bellator)

For now, Lima remains solely focused on the task in front of him: Eliminating one last foe from the tournament. While Steve Carl and Chris Lozano have attempted to thwart Lima from reaching his objective, he’s also had to overcome another obstacle that accompanies the tournament format.

“We’re always busy, that’s good, but sometimes it just takes a lot on your body,” Lima admitted. “I’ve been at it for about four or five months straight, and there’s a point where my body just can’t take it. I want to take a little break, but I can’t.

“So, for me, that’s the most difficult part, but you got to have heart, you got to fight hard, you got to go through those hard days, the training. Stay calm and don’t get hurt. Stay ready. I like the fact that I’m always busy, but the body (laughs), sometimes it gives out on you.”

So far, his body has held up just fine. He has put two wins in the books, and come Saturday he will look to make it three. Then, should he emerge victorious, perhaps he can take that much-deserved break with the comforting knowledge that a title shot will await him when he returns.

“Keep on the watch, guys, keep on the lookout,” Lima said in conclusion. “I’m coming hard. I want to win this thing. I want to be a champion over there in Bellator.”

Lima would like to thank his fans and everybody who follows him.

Top Photo: Douglas Lima (L) faces off with Ben Saunders  following Lima’s Bellator 53 win over Chris Lozano (Bellator)

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