Douglas Lima has been a professional fighter for more than 14 years. He debuted as a professional on July 14, 2006, when people were only just beginning to understand what mixed martial arts was.
There wasn’t a lot of money in the sport then, particularly for those who weren’t in the big show.
For his first bout, a match against Carlos Julio Molestina on Wild Bill’s Fight Night 3 in Duluth, Georgia, he made a cool $300. Now, after accounting for taxes, expenses, paying his corner and gym dues, it would come out to be nothing, but to the 18-year-old Lima, just getting a paycheck to fight was a thrill.
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” he said. “But in those early days, there was no money. It was a struggle to survive. Really, it was a huge struggle and there were a lot of times I wondered whether it was worth it.”
Lima, who on Thursday on the CBS Sports Network fights Gegard Mousasi for the vacant middleweight title at Bellator 250, said it was a long time before he was able to breathe financially.
He fought for low purse money and little sponsorships. He couldn’t afford to have a real job because it cut into his training time. At various points, he was a security officer and worked in construction, but the income he made there took away from his dream of being a full-time fighter.
He said he lucked out when he finally was able to get a job teaching MMA and jiu-jitsu. He’s comfortable now, but said it’s only been a recent development.
“I’m grateful because I’m making good money and I can live the life I want and have a good life for myself and my family,” he said. “I have a great life, to be honest with you. I have the house I want. I have my kids. I have the car I want. I’m making good money now and we can live a great life and be happy together as a family. It was a long process. I was 10 to 12 years into the sport before I really started to get some [financial] independence.
“Some guys do it quicker, but I think for a lot of guys, it’s not uncommon to take many, many years. There is not a lot of money at the entry level in this sport and you have to sacrifice and do without for a long time if you want to be able to make it.”
The caveat to that is there is no guarantee anyone is going to make it. In that regard, Lima has fared better than most. He is the reigning Bellator welterweight champion and is in his third stint with the belt. If he wins the middleweight title, he’d be only the fourth fighter in Bellator history to hold two championships simultaneously.
It was a loss, though, that he said really propelled him on his way. He was defeated by Ben Askren in his first bid for the Bellator welterweight crown at Bellator 64 on April 6, 2012.
The fight didn’t go his way, but the lessons he learned helped transform him into one of the finest fighters in Bellator history.
“I had been on vacation for two months before that fight and when I started training camp, I realize now that I just didn’t give myself time to be ready for a guy like that,” he said. “I’m going to be honest. I’m not sure if I could have beaten him no matter what, but I didn’t give myself the best chance. You’re at that level, you need to do everything and I don’t think I did that.
“He beat me fair and square, but I learned so much from that and it all helped me become so much better. I’m a different fighter and I trace it back to what I learned there.”
He’ll use those lessons against Mousasi, though he’s under no illusions that he’s going to cruise to victory. He knows Mousasi is arguably the most dangerous opponent he’s faced.
But he’s testing himself in a bid for greatness.
“This is a huge fight for legacy,” he said. “He’s a big name in the sport of MMA and a win over him means a lot. He’s a guy that when people see his name on my record, they’ll go, ‘Yeah, this guy did fight everybody.’ I respect him a lot and it’s a fight that was easy [to accept].”
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