2009 NCAA wrestling champion Darrion Caldwell (11-1) won his first MMA title by defeating bantamweight king Eduardo Dantas (20-5) by unanimous decision in the main event of Bellator 184 at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla.
It wasn’t the most dominant performance, but the 29-year-old Caldwell mixed in his wrestling with a steady diet of leg kicks to earn the nod, with one judge rewarding him a lopsided score of 50-45.
The majority of the fight saw Caldwell and Dantas tentatively sniping away at each other, though it was Caldwell who initiated most of the action. In Round 1, he secured a body lock on Dantas and tossed him head over heels with a German suplex. Dantas avoided any serious injury, but Caldwell took the early advantage by maintaining grappling control.
The next two rounds were more even, with Caldwell scoring a flash knockdown in Round 2 and Dantas closing out Round 3 in top position. “DuDu” pursued a neck crank and a rear-naked choke in Round 4, but Caldwell was able to slip free and get into full guard with two minutes to work. He made good use of that time, slicing Dantas above the eye with an elbow.
Both men slowed their output in Round 5, which didn’t bode well for the defending champion who needed to impress in the final five minutes to retain his title. Instead, Caldwell scored points with leg kicks before riding a body lock for most of the last round en route to securing the decision victory.
“I dealt with a lot of adversity leading up to this fight,” Caldwell said afterwards. “Getting served papers, (expletive), it seems like nothing’s going my way. But tonight was my night, I want to give a really big shout out to my team at Alliance in San Diego, Eric Del Fierro, Dominick Cruz, coach Nick (Piedmont)… we the best team in the world, baby, let’s (expletive) go.”
“It feels like a dream come true,” he continued. “The Wolf is here, this is my belt and I’m keeping it for a long, long time baby.”
Dantas loses for just the second time in the Bellator cage, with only Caldwell and Joe Warren being able to get the better of him. This was the first time the 28-year-old Brazilian had failed to see his hand raised since Oct. 10, 2014, a span of almost three years.
In the co-main event, Emmanuel Sanchez (16-3) capped off the best performance of his career with an emphatic finish of two-time titleholder Daniel Straus (25-8).
After three rounds of thrilling grappling action, it was “El Matador” who managed to catch Straus in an inescapable triangle choke that forced the tap out in Round 3 of their featherweight encounter.
For 15 minutes, Sanchez and Straus went back and forth on the mats, furiously trading submission attempts and swapping positions with neither wanting to give an inch. However, in the final round, Straus made the fatal mistake of falling right into the fateful submission that Sanchez would not relinquish until he’d secured the victory 1:56 into the final frame.
This was Sanchez’s first finish since making his Bellator debut in October 2014. Post-match, he announced that he’s keeping the same “devil may care” approach to callouts that got him this far in his career.
“I’ve said it since the beginning, anybody, anywhere, anytime,” said Sanchez. “I don’t care what weight, what division… Name the place, you give it to me, I’m there. I’ve fought everybody that Rich Chou and the boss Scott Coker wanted me to fight, that’s the third former champion in a row. What’s next? Anybody.”
Sanchez has now won three straight fights, which includes decision nods over former Bellator bantamweight champion Marcos Galvao and former World Series of Fighting featherweight champion Georgi Karakhanyan.
Straus suffers back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, following a second-round submission loss to rival Patricio Freire at Bellator 178 this past April.
Also on the main card, former featherweight champion Pat Curran (22-7) returned to the Bellator cage for the first time in over 500 days to pick up a hard-fought unanimous decision win over John “Macapa” Teixeira (21-3-2), and Leandro Higo (18-3) topped Joe Taimanglo (23-8-1) by unanimous decision to kick off the televised portion of the card.