All signs have pointed here for Darrion Caldwell.
The unbeaten bantamweight prospect will get his first crack at one of Bellator MMA’s power players when he meets former two-division champion Joe Warren in the Bellator 151 main event on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. A victory, particularly an impressive one, could put Caldwell in position for a shot at Bellator’s 135-pound title, which currently rests upon the shoulder of Marcos Galvao.
A Power MMA Team representative, Caldwell has rattled off eight consecutive victories to start his career. The 28-year-old last fought at Bellator 143 in September, when he submitted Shawn Bunch with a first-round rear-naked choke. Caldwell was a two-time NCAA All-American at North Carolina State University, where he was a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion and 2009 NCAA national champion. The Rahway, New Jersey, native still ranks second on the Wolfpack’s all-time list in career wins (109) and pins (58) and third in winning percentage (.893). Caldwell owns a perfect 5-0 mark with three finishes in Bellator.
Warren remains one of the faces of the Bellator promotion, as he has compiled an 11-3 record and captured championships as a bantamweight and featherweight. The 39-year-old has won six of his past seven bouts, a kneebar-induced submission loss to the aforementioned Galvao the lone blemish. Warren last competed at Bellator 143 in Hidalgo, Texas, where he claimed a three-round unanimous decision over World Extreme Cagefighting, International Fight League and Sengoku veteran L.C. Davis. He was an NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Michigan and went on to strike Greco-Roman gold at the 2006 FILA Wrestling World Championships.
With the Warren-Caldwell showdown on the marquee, here is what to watch for at Bellator 151:
Two of Bellator’s more promising young featherweights will cross paths on the main card, as Goiti Yamauchi battles Bubba Jenkins.
Yamauchi will enter the cage on the strength of a three-fight winning streak. The 23-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt last appeared at Bellator 144 in October, when he tapped former Pancrase champion Isao Kobayashi with a third-round rear-naked choke. Long a favored technique, Yamauchi boasts 15 submissions among his 19 professional victories, 11 of them by rear-naked choke.
A decorated amateur wrestler whose move to MMA was preceded by massive hype, Jenkins has yet to live up to the expectations that were placed upon him. Still, the 28-year-old has been a success, as evidenced by his 10-2 record. Jenkins has recorded back-to-back victories since his January 2015 submission loss to former World Series of Fighting champion Georgi Karakhanyan. He has not fought since sinking Jordan Parsons by split decision in November.
They call him “Midnight Magic.”
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17 qualifier and onetime Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Gilbert Smith will ride the momentum of a modest two-fight winning streak into his organizational debut opposite Fernando Gonzalez. Smith, 34, last fought on Oct. 9, when he stopped Bristol Marunde with fourth-round punches to successfully defend his RFA title. A short-notice replacement for the injured Michael Page, he runs the Team Victory camp in Colorado Springs.
Gonzalez will have a significant experience advantage. A veteran of 37 professional bouts, the 32-year-old Californian finds himself on a run of four straight victories that includes triumphs over Karl Amoussou, Karo Parisyan and former Dream champion Marius Zaromskis. Gonzalez has delivered 16 of his 24 career wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Bounced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship after alternating wins and losses between Danny Martinez and Frankie Saenz, Sirwan Kikai now tests his luck under Bellator’s roof.
The American Top Team-trained Swede will duke it out with former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion Joe Taimanglo in a three-round bantamweight showcase. Kirkai last appeared at UFC Fight Night “Teixeira vs. St. Preux” on Aug. 8, when he wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against Saenz at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The defeat halted the 26-year-old’s three-right winning streak.
Taimanglo operates out of the Spike 22 outfit in his native Guam. The 31-year-old has posted 12 wins across his last 14 outings, losing only to “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 5 alum Rob Emerson and the American Kickboxing Academy’s Justin Wilcox. Sixteen of Taimanglo’s 21 professional victories have resulted in finishes.
Carrying the Legacy
Based on pedigree and name value alone, Neiman Gracie has become a name to watch in Bellator’s welterweight division.
The son of Marcio Stambowsky and nephew of Renzo Gracie, he has thus far made a seamless transition to MMA as a world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu player. The 27-year-old has submitted each of his first three opponents, two of them inside one round, and has put himself in position to make some noise at 170 pounds. Gracie made his promotional debut at Bellator 134 a year ago, when he tapped Bobby Flynn with a first-round neck crank. His next assignment: a date with journeyman Roger Carroll on the undercard.
Carroll would like nothing more than to steady his ship with an upset, as the North Carolinian enters the matchup on the heels of consecutive losses to Ryan Thomas and Brennan Ward.