Darrion Caldwell’s triumph over Joe Warren at Bellator 151 seemed like a surefire statement victory, one that would propel him to a title shot in his next bout.
After all, the NCAA national champion wrestler from North Carolina State University had just absolutely manhandled a former two-division Bellator titlist, suplexing the self-proclaimed “Baddest Man on the Planet” with ease and battering him with ground-and-pound before securing the fight-ending rear-naked choke 3:23 into the opening frame. With six straight wins to begin his promotional tenure, the last of those being the most impressive of all, “The Wolf” appeared to have officially arrived.
As it turns out, Caldwell will have to win one more fight before challenging for 135-pound gold, as he faces the surging Joe Taimanglo in a title eliminator at Bellator 159 on Friday night. The event takes place at the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan., and airs on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
At first glance, it would appear that Taimanglo, whose most notable win in seven Bellator outings is a decision over Sirwan Kakai, is a step back from Warren. But Caldwell doesn’t see it that way.
“He’s earned the right to fight me. He’s working his way up just like I am,” Caldwell told Sherdog.com. “Who wants to stay idle? Who wants to build ring rust? Not me. I’m young in this sport. I want to fight. Nobody wants to build up their ring rust. For me it’s about just staying active, whether it’s Joe Taimanglo or Eduardo Dantas, I just want to stay active. I don’t want to wait seven months; I want to fight every two or three months.”
Caldwell confirmed that he was given the option to wait for the winner of the Dantas-Marcos Galvao title bout at Bellator 156 in June. Considering that he hadn’t fought since March, it wasn’t an appealing choice.
“It [waiting] was an option, but I don’t want to stay idle,” he said. “I want to fight everybody at 135. I want to clear out the division so there’s no question who the best 135er in the world is.”
The victory over Warren was a significant step in that direction, and Caldwell believes he is still learning the difference between being an effective wrestler and an effective mixed martial artist. The conditioning is not an issue, however, especially since he elected to make the move from featherweight to 135 pounds.
“Being a wrestler, you want to stay attached to guys. You don’t really understand the space to do damage. That’s what I’ve really been learning and getting better at,” he said. “It’s hard not be in great shape when I’m going down to 135. I have no choice being a 170-pound guy walking around. It’s not easy work. You’ve got to come in in shape. Everything is just falling into place.”
Caldwell will be heavily favored against Taimanglo, but the Power MMA product sees the 32-year-old Guam native as a talent with some tools that exceed even those atop the division.
“I’m not looking past Joe. He poses a lot of threats that even the champ doesn’t pose. I’m on my toes. I’m not taking him lightly. I’m gonna give him everything that I’ve got.”
As for the aforementioned champion, Caldwell says he would like to challenge Dantas for the belt before the end of the year, assuming all goes as planned on Friday. Again, it’s all about staying active. Although the 27-year-old champion has been with Bellator since 2011, Caldwell still sees him as a “kid” with room to grow.
“I don’t think Dantas has a killer instinct...He’s one of those guys that if he can put you on your heels that’s where he wants to be. You see in the Joe Warren fight, when he fights someone that can pressure him back...he starts to give and starts to break. When everything’s going right, it’s easy,” Caldwell said. “When it’s time for me and Dantas to fight, it’s not gonna go right for him.”