Darrion Caldwell had a target on his back on the first day he arrived at Bellator MMA.
As a former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler, Caldwell had the perfect pedigree to make waves in mixed martial arts and that’s exactly what he did through nine fights in his career.
Caldwell not only remained undefeated but he just kept getting better with each fight that culminated in a lopsided first round submission win over former Bellator champion Joe Warren in 2016. It appeared the former N.C. State standout was poised for a run at the title until he was surprised by Joe Tiamanglo when he got caught by a third round guillotine choke that ended with his first loss.
Caldwell bounced back six months later to avenge his loss to Tiamanglo, but that defeat taught him a valuable lesson that he carries into Bellator 184 on Friday night.
He never wants to lose again.
“In this sport, you’re gonna take a loss — it’s almost inevitable,” Caldwell told MMAWeekly. “I don’t know anyone who’s fought good competition and competition that are world class athletes that hasn’t taken a loss. In this sport it’s just a matter of time. But you can grow from it. I don’t really focus on losing. I’m a winner and I focus on winning.
“There are going to be bumps in the road but I don’t see anybody else beating me.”
This weekend, Caldwell has the chance to live up to the hype that has surrounding him since entering the sport as he faces Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas.
It’s his first shot at gold but Caldwell has been in these types of high pressure situations before from his college wrestling career.
The way Caldwell sees it, this fight gives him the chance to become a champion before he goes on a long undefeated streak with numerous title defenses while serving as one of the faces of Bellator MMA.
Now that might sound like lofty aspirations for a guy just about to compete for a title for the first time in his fighting career but Caldwell has always been goal oriented and this is just the next rung on the ladder for him.
“Eduardo, I do believe he’s one of the pound-for-pound best guys in Bellator. I believe when I go out there and beat him, it proves I’m the best guy in Bellator,” Caldwell said. “I’m the most athletic guy. I’m the best wrestler. I’m the most well rounded martial artist. Going out there and beating him is just going to put a stamp on my name. I believe he’s a great dude outside of the cage, but I could care less about him personally. Come Oct. 6, I’m going to go out there and break his face.
“I’m going to go out there and hurt the boy. There’s no way around it, it’s just going straight through and that’s how I’m going to get to my goals.”
Not only is Caldwell ready to be champion, but he’s excited to embrace the spotlight that the title will afford him. Caldwell has enjoyed being one of the most highly touted prospects to rise up the ranks at Bellator MMA but now he’s ready to become a landmark fixture for the promotion.
When fans think of the best that Bellator MMA has to offer, Caldwell wants his name to be the first one that comes to mind.
“I embrace every part of it. From the media aspect to being a good person outside of the cage, grinding hard inside of the cage. It dates back from high school, I’ve always been under the spotlight. I’ve got a banner up at my high school. I’ve got a banner up at N.C. State. Now it’s time to go ahead and get that banner for Bellator. It’s my time,” Caldwell said.
“I’m going to be that champion that fighters don’t want to fight. I’m going to go out there Oct. 6 and prove it. There haven’t been a lot of champions that fighters aren’t looking to fight. I’m going to make it so these guys they are not going to want to fight me. They are going to see what kind of punishment I impose and they’re not going to want to fight me.”
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