Former NC State wrestler Darrion Caldwell won the Bellator MMA bantamweight championship on Friday night.
Caldwell, a Wolfpack grappler from 2007 to 2011 and the 2009 NCAA champion, won a unanimous decision over champion Eduardo Dantas in Thackerville, Okla.
The title shot was originally planned for April, but Caldwell suffered an undisclosed injury, which resulted in the five-month delay. It was Caldwell’s first MMA bout in 307 days, the longest layoff of his career.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Caldwell said. “Everything happens at God’s speed.”
Caldwell controlled the early action, smothering Dantas against the cage. He got a takedown of the champion 30 seconds into the fight, then spent much of the next three-plus minutes in control of Dantas, against the cage. At one point, he slammed Dantas to the mat with an impressive suplex throw that got a loud reaction from the crowd.
Dantas was more aggressive in the second round, stalking Caldwell and cutting off the cage, in an effort to turn the fight into a kickboxing exchange. Caldwell was able to score two takedowns, however, slowing Dantas’ momentum and keeping the fight against the cage. Caldwell also floored Dantas with a short left elbow late in the round.
Caldwell continued to follow the same gameplan in the third round, shooting for early takedowns, then keeping Dantas under control against the fence. The champion rallied late in the round, however, scoring a late takedown and putting Caldwell on his back. Dantas moved into side control, then got to full mount in the final seconds of the round.
A Caldwell takedown in the fourth round gave the challenger an early advantage, but Dantas was able to reverse him and get back control. Dantas put Caldwell into a rear-naked choke submission hold with 2:30 remaining in the round, but Caldwell managed to get a reversal and move into top position. He opened a cut over Dantas’ eye with an elbow.
In the fifth, Caldwell scored early with a flying knee and a solid left hand. Dantas got a late takedown, but it wouldn’t be enough.
In his first career five-round fight, Caldwell won on the scorecards of all three judges, getting scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 50-45 to win the title.
“I have been waiting for this moment for my whole life,” Caldwell said. “Darrion Caldwell is the Bellator bantamweight champion! That has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?”
Caldwell improved to 11-1 as a pro, 8-1 in Bellator. After the long layoff, he was looking to get back into the cage again in the near future.
“I want to be an active champion,” Caldwell said. “I want to bring some prestige to this belt. You’ll be hearing from me very soon.”