Darrion Caldwell ready for Bellator title shot after avenging first loss of MMA career

Former NC State wrestler looking to reach pinnacle of Bantamweight in Bellator after lowest point of his MMA career

via Bellator—via Bellator
Darrion Caldwell celebrates an MMA Bellator victory over Joe Warren.

Five months ago, Darrion Caldwell laid in the middle of the octagon in utter disbelief. Despite dominating the entire match against Joe Taimanglo, the third round saw Caldwell caught in a guillotine choke, costing him the first loss of his career.Caldwell wasn’t used to losing. Over his entire career, the former NC State wrestler finished 109-13 with the 2008 national championship. The Wolf also blew through every other Bellator opponent with four submissions in six matches.It was also a fight that wasn’t supposed to happen. Instead of ducking out when the fight was moved to a catchweight bout due to Taimanglo not making weight, Caldwell still fought him on July 22. That decision left Caldwell with a blemish on his record, one that he didn’t soon forget.”After the last loss, I knew I had to go back to the drawing board,” Caldwell said. “I had to figure out exactly what I needed and add more structure to my camp. I made changes to get that win, because when you lose it sticks with you until you can get revenge. It meant a lot to get that win.”One of the biggest changes to his camp prior to the rematch was adding a new sparring partner, UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz.Cruz dominated the Bantamweight division for years. The 31-year-old fighter has won 13 straight matches, including all five of his UFC bouts. Even with long lulls between fights from 2011 to now — just three over that span — he’s still the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in UFC.Despite the age difference, the two have followed similar career paths. After starting out 9-0 in MMA, Cruz dropped his first match to Urijah Faber in his 10th bout.Cruz got his revenge on Faber four years later. Caldwell didn’t have to wait that long with Cruz in his camp.”He’s one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, so you can’t get much tougher than fighting him,” Caldwell said. “Being able to train with a guy like that day in and day out definitely had me ready. There’s no one in the game that can match him, so it only gets easier from there.”When Caldwell returned to the ring, he was teeming with confidence and in the best shape of his life. Taimanglo attempted numerous submissions on Caldwell, but The Wolf freed himself and finished with his signature backflip following the unanimous decision.Before reclaiming his title as the No. 1 contender, Caldwell said he focused entirely on grappling defense and defending submissions. With that in his arsenal and Taimanglo’s inability to change his own fighting style, Caldwell headed into the match both physically and mentally strong.”I’m always confident when I’m going into any fight,” Caldwell said. “That’s the biggest part of any competition is being there mentally. If you’re drained mentally or let someone get into your head, you’re not on top of your game. “No one’s going to knock me off my mental game.”The sting of that loss didn’t go away. One night before getting his revenge, Caldwell had to watch as Joe Warren — who he defeated with a first-round submission in March — lost in a bout for the title against Eduardo Dantas.That was supposed to be him. Now, after a minor setback and major comeback, he’s likely next in line for a title shot. Though the fight hasn’t been announced, Caldwell is just waiting to mark the date on his calendar.”Nothing changes for me now,” Caldwell explained, “because I’ve been training for this opportunity ever since I got into the sport. My goal has always been to be a champion. I’ve felt I deserved a shot at the title since beating Warren, but didn’t get it. I definitely think I’ve earned it now.”Things don’t always happen as you plan, but I think I’m a stronger fighter now after losing and more prepared than ever to contend for a title.”There are some slight differences for a championship match, however, as Caldwell would have to go five rounds with Dantas if they’re matched up together. Having won by decision in five of his matches in three rounds, the preparation has to be completely different for a five-round match.”I’m gonna take my time in this camp and really focus on endurance,” Caldwell said. “I’m going to be able to perform at the best of my ability for five rounds straight. That’s the only thing that changes.”Caldwell’s path has never been easy. His wrestling career at NC State was cut drastically short due to recurring shoulder injuries. After earning the right to a title fight back in March, Caldwell will likely have to wait nearly a year before finally getting his chance.But given his past, The Wolf isn’t worried about what comes next. To him, losing is just another chance to learn from your mistakes.”This sport is built around adversity,” Caldwell said. “I may have gone down, but that’s not going to define who I am. I’ve fought too hard for this. I’m cool with a little adversity. When the opportunity presents itself this time around, I’m going to take it. I’m going to get it done.”