Darrion Caldwell found his way to Bellator MMA’s pantheon of champions, just as many predicted he would when he joined the organization as an undefeated prospect in March 2014.
“The Wolf” completed his rise to the top of the 135-pound weight class, as he captured the bantamweight crown with a five-round unanimous decision over Eduardo Dantas in the Bellator 184 main event on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Scores were 48-47, 48-47 and 50-45, the win putting even more distance between Caldwell and his surprising submission defeat to Joe Taimanglo a little more than a year ago.
Dantas was never afforded the breathing room he needed. Caldwell bottled up the Brazilian against the cage, running through various clinches that chewed up clock, minimized risk and kept momentum in his corner. He delivered a crowd-pleasing suplex in the first round, dropped Dantas to a knee with a standing elbow strike in the second and drew blood with ground-and-pound in the fourth. It was more than enough to overshadow the Nova Uniao standout’s work.
“I have been waiting for this moment for my whole life,” Caldwell said. “Darrion Caldwell is the Bellator bantamweight champion; that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I want to be an active champion. I want to bring some prestige to this belt. You’ll be hearing from me very soon.”
In the aftermath of Bellator 184, here are four matches that ought to be made:
Darrion Caldwell vs. Leandro Higo: Caldwell now lords over a division in transition. He avenged his loss to Taimanglo, throttled Joe Warren and dethroned Dantas; and while Michael McDonald figures to give the weight class a much-needed jolt, the Ultimate Fighting Championship transplant has not yet made his Bellator debut. That leaves Higo as the most logical choice for Caldwell’s first title defense. The Pitbull Brothers representative has won nine of his past 10 bouts, with his lone loss in that stretch coming in a short-notice assignment against Dantas at Bellator 177. Higo has championship pedigree on his side, too, having captured titles in the Legacy Fighting Alliance and Resurrection Fighting Alliance promotions.
Emmanuel Sanchez vs. Patricio Freire-Daniel Weichel winner: It was the virtuoso Sanchez performance for which everyone had been waiting. The Roufusport star submitted two-time featherweight champion Daniel Straus with a third-round triangle choke in the co-main event at 145 pounds. Sanchez, 27, has rounded into form, making the transition from prospect to contender on the strength of a three-fight winning streak that has seen him defeat Straus, Marcos Galvao and Georgi Karakhanyan. A protégé of former world kickboxing champion Duke Roufus, he now owns a stellar 8-2 record under the Bellator banner. Freire will defend his featherweight title in a rematch with Weichel at Bellator 188 on Nov. 16 in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Pat Curran vs. Henry Corrales: Curran showed no signs of ring rust in his first appearance since May 20, 2016, as he recorded a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” graduate John Teixeira da Conceciao in a three-round featherweight showcase. Scores were 29-28, 30-27 and 30-26. Curran has been one of the pillars of the Bellator organization for seven-plus years and undoubtedly has designs on claiming the 145-pound championship for an unprecedented third time. For now, he waits in line. A former two-division King of the Cage titleholder, Corrales has quietly pieced together a two-fight winning streak since his April 2016 submission loss to the aforementioned Freire. He last competed at Bellator 182 on Aug. 25, when he was awarded a unanimous verdict against Noad Lahat.
Carrington Banks vs. Zach Freeman-Saad Awad winner: In Banks, Bellator appears to have uncovered another gem. The undefeated prospect and onetime member of the Blackzilians stable improved to 7-0 on the undercard, as he took a clear-cut unanimous decision from Steve Kozola. Banks appeared on Season 21 of “The Ultimate Fighter” but failed to procure an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract despite outpointing Sabah Homasi. He has not skipped a beat since, winning all three of his fights in Bellator. The 28-year-old Banks could move quickly in the promotion’s lightweight division. Freeman and Awad will lock horns at Bellator 186 on Nov. 3.