Darrion Caldwell was indeed ready for primetime.
Caldwell staked his claim as the No. 1 contender in Bellator MMA’s bantamweight division, as he put Joe Warren to sleep with a first-round rear-naked choke in the Bellator 151 headliner on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The end came 3:23 into round one.
A former two-division Bellator champion, Warren (13-5, 11-4 Bellator) was a non-factor. Caldwell (9-0, 6-0 Bellator) executed a pair of takedowns and a spectacular belly-to-back suplex, sandwiching ground-and-pound between the techniques. The 28-year-old advanced to Warren’s back with little resistance, slipped in the choke and waited for referee Dan Miragliotta to intervene.
In the co-main event, Fernando Gonzalez climbed another rung on the welterweight ladder with a split decision against former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion Gilbert Smith. Scores were 29-28 and 29-28 for Gonzalez, 29-28 for Smith.
The back-and-forth affair was as competitive as the scorecards indicated. Smith (12-5, 0-1 Bellator) did his best work in the second round, as “The Ultimate Fighter 17” graduate delivered a takedown, grapevined Gonzalez’s legs and piled up points with kneeling ground-and-pound against the fence. Gonzalez (25-13, 5-0 Bellator) appeared to hold a slight advantage in rounds two and three, where he controlled the standup and often reversed out of disadvantageous positions. The King of the Cage veteran put his stamp on the fight in the final 90 seconds, as he punched his way into top position against the fatigued Smith, settled in half guard and dropped elbows from the top.
Gonzalez, 32, has won five fights in a row.
Meanwhile, two-time NCAA All-American Bubba Jenkins recorded his third straight win, as he picked up a unanimous decision over Goiti Yamauchi in a featured contest at 145 pounds. Jenkins (11-2, 8-2 Bellator) swept the scorecards with 29-28, 30-27 and 29-27 marks.
Yamauchi (19-3, 5-2 Bellator) had his counterpart under duress throughout the first round, as he climbed to the decorated American wrestler’s back in a standing position and hunted rear-naked chokes. Jenkins survived the exchanges and pushed the fight deeper, finding more favorable conditions as the minutes passed. He struck for takedowns in the second and third rounds, paired a suffocating top game with ground-and-pound and avoided Yamauchi’s armbar and triangle attempts from the bottom.
The defeat snapped Yamauchi’s three-fight winning streak.
Elsewhere, an active early submission attack, consistent forward movement and a smattering of power punches carried former Pacific Xtreme Combat champion Joe Taimanglo to a unanimous decision over Sirwan Kakai in a three-round bantamweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 29-28 for Taimanglo (22-6-1, 4-2 Bellator).
Kakai (12-4, 0-1 Bellator) sputtered out of the gate and did not get going until the third round. Taimanglo took full advantage. The 31-year-old Guam native threatened Kakai with a pair of submissions inside the first five minutes, transitioning from an anaconda choke to a guillotine. Neither maneuver resulted in a finish, but the tone was set.
After a tepid second round, Kakai seemed to settle into a rhythm. The American Top Team rep countered effectively and mixed in kicks to the body and legs, but his efforts proved to be too little too late.
In preliminary action, Neiman Gracie (4-0, 2-0 Bellator) remained unbeaten with a one-sided unanimous decision over journeyman Roger Carroll (16-14, 0-2 Bellator) in their three-round tilt at 170 pounds, drawing 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 scores from the judges; Ricky Turcios (5-0, 1-0 Bellator) claimed a split verdict -- 28-29, 30-27 and 30-27 -- from Steve Garcia (6-1, 4-1 Bellator) in their three-round bantamweight encounter; Jermayne Barnes (1-1, 1-0 Bellator) struck Derek Palmer (0-1, 0-1 Bellator) into submission with ground-and-pound 1:17 into the second round of their catchweight affair at 195 pounds; Justin Patterson (7-1, 1-1 Bellator) pulled out a split decision -- 28-29, 29-28 and 29-28 -- against Chance Rencountre (8-2, 0-1 Bellator) in a three-round welterweight clash; and Ray Wood (6-1, 1-0 Bellator) took out Chris Jones (10-4, 3-2 Bellator) with a spinning back fist and follow-up punches 3:10 into the first round of their pairing at a 152-pound catchweight.