Bellator 184: “Dantas vs. Caldwell” takes place tomorrow night (Fri., Oct. 6, 2017) at WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Okla., featuring a Spike TV-televised main event between Bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas — who is searching for his fifth straight win in a title defense — against takedown specialist Darrion Caldwell.
In addition to the 135-pound title bout on atop the marquee, two Featherweight bouts underneath will feature former world champions seeking their path back to glory, while the man who once scored a stunning upset over Caldwell will look to score a win over a former opponent of Dantas.
Let’s break it down:
135 lbs.: Eduardo Dantas (20-4) vs. Darrion Caldwell (10-1)
There are two fighters to me who personify the phrase “speed kills” — UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and Bellator Bantamweight champion Eduardo “Dudu” Dantas. Both have a speed edge over their competition that is almost impossible to beat. Both strike effectively and are nowhere to be found when their opponents throw counter shots. Both are incredibly well conditioned and have the cardio to go round after round in lengthy title fights. Presenting them with a No. 1 contender is simply another chance to answer the question: “Are you faster than me?”
Normally for Dantas the answer is “no,” but we have seen a crack in his armor on just one occasion. Even though he has lost four times overall, Joe Warren is the only man to beat him in Bellator MMA so far. How did he do what hasn’t been done by anyone else in 11 fights? WRESTLING. Whether you love him or you hate him, even his haters can admit Warren is one of the best wrestlers in mixed martial arts. Warren may not have been faster with his hands or his feet, but so long as he could get Dantas to engage at close range, he could change levels and find those takedowns. Even in this case Warren just squeaked by and won three rounds to two. A few years later Dantas got his revenge in a decidedly more one-sided fight.
What does this mean for “The Wolf” Darrion Caldwell? Well as a former NCAA national champion at 149 pounds, Caldwell can make a case to say he’s the younger (29) faster and stronger version of Joe Warren. Half of his wins (five out of 10) come by decision, showing he’s more than happy to punish opponents by slamming them to the mat, then using groundwork to pound out a grueling victory. His Achilles heel is also his wrestling, though. Caldwell drives so hard on his takedown attempts that he often leaves his neck exposed, and Joe Taimanglo caught him in the act for one of 2016’s more shocking upsets. Even though Caldwell would avenge that loss he gave Taimanglo multiple chances to submit him a second time to a shocking degree.
Dantas hasn’t submitted anyone since 2014, but Caldwell can ill afford to take that chance and give Dantas the chance to apply a guillotine. Caldwell has been given the ultimate Catch 22 scenario — he can beat Dantas with wrestling if he can catch him, but in trying to catch him he could expose himself to another devastating submission. Caldwell has one other problem — he’s injury prone — which caused him to withdraw from this fight once before. Can Caldwell come in anywhere close enough to 100 percent for the bout? He’s got to be stronger, and faster, and make less mistakes than Dantas. He needs a nearly perfect fight, while Dantas just needs to do what he’s already done in four straight fights. Advantage: Dantas.
Final prediction: Eduardo Dantas retains the title via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Daniel Straus (25-7) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (15-3)
At this point I think we can all be happy Daniel Straus is not fighting a man named Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. The series of encounters they’ve had is epic, but having only one victory in four attempts means Freire has his number. That’s bad news for the former two-time Featherweight champion, because to get a fifth fight with the current champion, he’s going to have to be even more impressive now than at any point in his career so far. He doesn’t just need wins, he needs dominant spectacular wins to prove it’s worth Bellator running it back one more time.
The upside is definitely on the side of “El Matador” Emmanuel Sanchez. He’s younger (27 vs. 33), he’s taller (5’9” vs. 5’8”) and he’s got a clear reach advantage (71” vs. 67”). His only loss in his last six fights comes against Daniel Weichel, and a two fight win streak over tough opponents like Georgi Karakhanyan and Marcos Galvao suggest that’s a problem he’s solved. If there’s a huge knock on Sanchez it’s that he tips scales heavy on a fairly regular basis. Bellator can make this a catchweight fight if they need to, but they shouldn’t have to because if Sanchez wants to be a contender he needs to prove it both on the scale and in the cage with the former champion.
Final prediction: Emmanuel Sanchez takes a unanimous decision in Oklahoma
145 lbs.: Pat Curran (22-7) vs. John Teixeira (21-2-2)
Another former champion steps into the fray in Thackerville on Friday night — the man who took the title back from Straus in a rematch of their first encounter. Since that time Curran’s career has been 2-2, but the latter two are wins over the aforementioned Sanchez and the always dangerous Karakhanyan. One more quality win has him knocking on the No. 1 contender’s door. Only a seasoned veteran like Daniel Weichel or a hot young prospect like A.J. McKee would have a better argument than a two-time champion on a three fight win streak over top divisional foes.
Yes that does mean I’m qualifying Teixeira as a top foe for Curran. He’s only lost once in five Bellator fights and that was to the aforementioned Weichel. Getting bogged down in the “MMA math” of who can beat who by who they beat is an unreliable way to pick fights, and all of these men have common opponents. Let’s look at the tale of the tape instead. Teixeira is 5’7” with a 68” reach. Curran is 5’10” with a 73” reach. Both men are 30 years old. There’s only a four fight difference between them in total number of bouts. Curran has 12 finishes (five knockouts, seven submissions) and Teixeira has 14 (four knockouts, 10 submissions). I consider that a push in three out of five categories, but a significant edge for Curran in size and reach. My mind’s made up.
Final prediction: Pat Curran wins this fight via technical knockout
135 lbs.: Joe Taimanglo (23-7-1) vs. Leandro Higo (17-3)
Leandro Higo is a bit of a disappointment to me. He came in as a replacement for Caldwell to fight Dantas with an outstanding record and eight straight wins. Unfortunately Higo missed weight and ended up in a non-title bout. Even though Dantas clearly dominated the contest one judge scored it for Higo anyway which is even more frustrating. Fight fans should expect Higo to prove himself if he wants to stick around in Bellator’s competitive Bantamweight division. He’s finished 14 of 20 fights (70 percent) and needs a performance like that against Taimanglo to earn his spot.
Taimanglo is a seasoned and underrated veteran with over 30 fights under his belt including the aforementioned career defining victory over Caldwell. “The Juggernaut” finishes over half of his wins by submission (12 of 23) and will seize any opportunity he gets to tap you out. There’s one big problem for Taimanglo though and it’s his size. He’s a 5’4” fighter with a 65” reach going against a 5’8” fighter with a 72” reach. The four inches in height could be irrelevant, but the seven inches in length is definitely not. Higo doesn’t knock people out very often (three times) but it’s very hard to not picture him tagging Taimanglo often. Remember we started out with the premise that “speed kills” and Taimanglo just isn’t that quick. He’s called “The Juggernaut” because he packs a lot of muscle into a small frame, which makes him dangerous if he puts you in a squeeze but slower on his feet overall.
Final prediction: Leandro Higo gets his first Bellator win via knockout
That’s a wrap!
MMAmania.com will deliver coverage of Bellator 184 tomorrow with “Prelims” undercard results at 7 p.m. ET and Spike TV fights starting at 9 p.m. ET. To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.