Darrion Caldwell fought his fight.
The onetime NCAA wrestling champion became the fifth bantamweight titleholder in Bellator MMA history, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision over Eduardo Dantas in the Bellator 184 headliner on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. All three cageside judges scored it for Caldwell (11-1, 8-1 Bellator MMA): 48-47, 48-47 and 50-45.
Dantas (20-5, 10-2 Bellator MMA) enjoyed success in bursts -- he mounted the Alliance MMA rep in the third round and fished for a rear-naked choke in the fourth -- but they were few and far between. Caldwell repeatedly pinned him to the fence, killing valuable time and momentum amid building frustration. He executed a belly-to-back suplex in the first round, dropped Dantas to a knee with a standing elbow in the second and opened a cut near his left eye with some ground-and-pound in the fourth. Needing a finish, Dantas failed in his bid to turn the tide in Round 5.
The loss snapped a four-fight winning streak for Dantas.
In the featherweight co-main event, Roufusport’s Emmanuel Sanchez secured his signature victory and submitted two-time champion Daniel Straus with a third-round triangle choke. Straus (24-8, 11-5 Bellator MMA) conceded defeat 1:56 into Round 3.
Superiority in the scrambles paved Sanchez’s way. He threatened Straus with a kneebar and rear-naked choke during a wild back-and-forth first round. His momentum bled into the second, where he climbed to full mount and unleashed a hellacious barrage of punches and elbows that nearly forged the stoppage. Straus survived but only prolonged the inevitable. In the third round, Sanchez (16-3, 8-2 Bellator MMA) yielded a takedown, stayed composed and caught the fight-ending triangle from the bottom. After an extended struggle, Straus offered up a meek tapout.
Sanchez now finds himself on a three-fight winning streak, placing him among Bellator’s best at 145 pounds.
Meanwhile, two-time featherweight titleholder Pat Curran made a triumphant return from 504-day layoff with a unanimous decision against “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” alum John Teixeira da Conceicao in a three-round feature at 145 pounds. In his first fight since May 20, 2016, Curran (23-7, 13-4 Bellator MMA) prompted 29-28, 30-27 and 30-26 nods from the judges.
Teixeira (21-3-2, 4-2 Bellator MMA) opened a cut near his counterpart’s right eye and tore into his lead leg with kicks but struggled to muster sustained offense. Curran picked his spots with power punches -- he dropped the Brazilian to a knee with a clubbing right hand in the first round -- and mixed in takedowns at opportune times. It was more than enough to earn favor on the scorecards.
Curran, 30, has rattled off three straight wins.
Elsewhere, former Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Leandro Higo won for the ninth time in 10 outings, as he pocketed a unanimous decision over Joe Taimanglo in a three-round bantamweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it for Higo (18-3, 1-1 Bellator MMA): 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27.
Taimanglo (23-8-1, 6-4 Bellator MMA) had issues with output, often working in single strikes against the far busier Brazilian. Higo cut off the Guam native in the clinch, sprawled out of his attempted takedowns and paired multi-punch combinations with leg kicks. He nearly finished it late in the third round, where he trapped Taimanglo in a tight guillotine for several tense moments.
The 33-year-old Taimanglo has lost two in a row.
In other action, American Top Team prospect Carrington Banks (7-0) took a one-sided unanimous decision from Steve Kozola (8-1) in a three-round encounter at 155 pounds, drawing 30-27, 30-25 and 30-25 scores from the judges; Sean Holden (6-2) put away Shakir McKillip (7-6) with punches 4:39 into the second round of their catchweight battle at 160 pounds; Luis Muro (5-2) captured a unanimous verdict from Emmanuel Rivera (6-2) in a three-round lightweight affair, sweeping the scorecards with 30-27 marks across the board; Chance Rencountre (11-2) dispatched Justin Patterson (9-4) with a brabo choke 2:58 into the first round of their welterweight tilt; Teagan Dooley (3-0) tapped DeMarcus Simmons (0-1) with a keylock 2:12 into the second round of their pairing at 205 pounds; and Westin Wilson (5-2) submitted L.J. Hemreck (3-3) with a rear-naked choke 55 seconds into the second round of their featherweight matchup.