Joe Taimanglo knows how he is perceived heading into Bellator 159, as a mere steppingstone on the way to Darrion Caldwell’s eventual coronation as bantamweight champion.
Being an underdog is no issue for the 32-year-old Guam native, however.
“Oh yeah, he’s definitely the favorite in this one, [with] his undefeated record and his college wrestling career. I’ve been the underdog so many times it doesn’t faze me,” Taimanglo recently told Sherdog.com. “He has to step in the ring too. Me going in there as an underdog, it’s just one of those fights where I’m working hard to climb up the ranks and be that No. 1 fighter at 135. That title is in reach, so this opportunity I’m not going to let slip out my hands.”
Taimanglo and Caldwell will square off in the Bellator 159 headliner on Friday night at the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kan., with a shot at reigning 135-pound king Eduardo Dantas on the line. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
Caldwell is coming off a surprisingly dominant victory over two-division titlist Joe Warren in March, the type of performance that solidified the former NCAA national wrestling champion as a future star in the sport. Meanwhile, Taimanglo has been building momentum since dropping from featherweight to bantamweight in 2014, as he enters the bout on a three-fight winning streak -- including a unanimous verdict against UFC veteran Sirwan Kakai at Bellator 151.
The former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion is well aware of his opponent’s credentials, but that hasn’t changed his method of preparation. In fact, Taimanglo welcomes the opportunity to test Caldwell’s area of strength.
“I don’t really adjust to them. I work to make them do what I need to do. With my style, I adapt well with everything,” he said. “Anytime I’m in this kind of situation, I just go out there and have fun. And do what I need to do. I don’t let these guys try to get off on their strong points. I’ve touched talent in all kinds of aspects of the game and the best of the game.
“With him coming in strong at wrestling, I want to feel his wrestling. I want to show them that I can wrestle too. I’ve been taken down a couple times in my fights, but it doesn’t mean that they’re winning the fights....I’ve been training with and around a lot of wrestlers for the past 12 years of my career. This is nothing new to me. I’m excited to have fun with this.”
Taimanglo’s Bellator MMA resume includes a spectacular third-round knockout of Antonio Duarte courtesy of a clubbing overhand right hand. “The Juggernaut” believes that power, as well as his overall strength, will give him the edge against his more celebrated adversary.
“I already know that I’m more powerful than most 135ers in this division or anywhere in the world,” Taimanglo said. “Once I hit I hit him, he’s just gonna freak out. All that wrestling’s gonna go out the window.....I’m using my power and my strength as my advantage coming into this fight. I’m going to prove it to him and the whole division. I didn’t get the name’ Juggernaut’ for nothing. I’m gonna show him what’s up.”