Darrion Caldwell has emerged as one of the crown jewels of the Bellator MMA organization.
The reigning bantamweight champion will leave his title on the shelf when he moves up to 145 pounds to face Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Noad Lahat in the Bellator 204 main event on Friday at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Caldwell, 30, owns a stellar 9-1 record with the promotion and finds himself on a three-fight winning streak.
As Caldwell prepares for his non-title affair with Lahat, here are five things you need to know about him:
1. His alma mater has spawned several influential figures.
Caldwell in 2006 graduated from Rahway High School in Rahway, New Jersey, where he was a multi-sport standout and lettered in wrestling, football and baseball. The school also produced Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Carl Sagan.
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2. Wrestling provides the backbone for his professional success.
Caldwell before transitioning to mixed martial arts was a two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at North Carolina State University, where he became a three-time Atlanta Coast Conference champion and won a national title in 2009. He still ranks second on the Wolfpack’s all-time list in career wins (109) and pins (58) and third in winning percentage (.893).
3. He hunts the neck inside the cage.
Caldwell has five submission wins to his credit, all of them chokes. His list of victims: Leandro Higo (guillotine choke), Joe Warren (rear-naked choke), Shawn Bunch (rear-naked choke), Joe Pingitore (rear-naked choke), Lance Surma (guillotine choke).
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4. Resilience appears to be a strength.
Caldwell suffered his only professional defeat at Bellator 159, where he submitted to a guillotine choke from Joe Taimanglo on July 22, 2016. He avenged the loss a little more than four months later, as he cruised to a unanimous decision over Taimanglo in their Bellator 167 rematch.
5. He surrounds himself with the right people.
Caldwell trains out of the powerhouse Alliance MMA camp in Chula Vista, California, where he has sharpened his skills alongside former Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder Dominick Cruz, onetime Bellator light heavyweight champion Phil Davis, reigning One Championship heavyweight titlist Brandon Vera and a number of other distinguished competitors, from Jeremy Stephens, Alexander Gustafsson and Ross Pearson to Angela Hill, Jessica Penne and Myles Jury.