UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Douglas Lima didn’t win the Bellator middleweight title on Thursday, but if it’s any consolation prize, his opponent Gegard Mousasi was impressed.

Mousasi (47-7-2 MMA, 5-1 BMMA) defeated the Bellator welterweight champion Lima (32-8 MMA, 14-4 BMMA by unanimous decision to claim the promotion’s vacant middleweight belt. After the fight, Mousasi voiced his surprise with Lima’s toughness and power in the cage.

“(Lima was) a tough opponent,” Mousasi told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at the Bellator 250 post-fight news conference. “I underestimated him in the beginning, maybe. He’s in his prime. Beating him, I was more technical. That’s why I beat him. This is a guy who is in his prime. He’s difficult to put away. I’d rather have a finish, but he wouldn’t go away. After the first round, I knew this guy was gonna stay for five (rounds).”

Lima’s leg kicks, in particular, caught Mousasi’s attention over the course of 25 minutes. The new champ was visibly hurting at the post-fight news conference, occasionally groaning and moaning as he reflected on the bout.

If the fight had gone on longer, Mousasi predicted he would’ve had a serious problem.

“In the last round, he hurt me,” Mousasi said. “I wasn’t showing it but I think I would have gone limping if it would’ve gone a little bit longer. I knew (it was) five rounds, so I didn’t show and I kept fighting.”

As for what’s next, Mousasi said John Salter is his ideal next challenger, despite Bellator president Scott Coker laying the foundation for a move up to light heavyweight. Salter (18-4 MMA, 8-1 BMMA) has won three straight fights, including a submission win over Andrew Kapel at Bellator 244 in August.

“He’s the next guy,” Mousasi said. “I’m definitely looking forward to that fight.”

Bellator 250 took place Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The main card aired on CBS Sports Network following prelims on MMA Junkie.