Bellator 184’s main event on Friday featured the first official bantamweight title defense in the promotion since December 2016. That’s after late-notice challenger Leandro Higo (who fought earlier on the Bellator 184 card) missed weight in April at Bellator 177. Champ Eduardo Dantas picked up a split decision victory in a non-title fight that night. Against Darrion Caldwell on Friday, however, the stakes were higher with the belt back on the line.
Dantas entered the night on a four fight win streak; among that stretch were his title-claiming win over Marcos Galvao and his first defense against Joe Warren. A two-time bantamweight champ in Bellator, Dantas would be facing a motivated Darrion Caldwell, who came into the night having traded a win and a loss with Joe Taimanglo over his last two bouts.
At the weigh-ins, Dantas had hoisted the severed head of a “wolf” in front of Darrion “The Wolf” Caldwell, Game of Thrones style. Would the main event prove to be that entertaining?
Early on in the first round Caldwell caught a kick from Dantas and charged forward, looking for a takedown. While he couldn’t finish initiailly, he was able to take the back and land a huge belly-to-back suplex. Holding on to Dantas as they got back up, he added a few knees, and fought to hold on to his grip as the champion worked to pry his hands apart. From that point forward, the round was a battle for position until the ref broke them apart with a minute to go. Caldwell threw a flying knee that came up short, and again looked to catch a kick.
Round two continued the flashy approach for Caldwell, who used his speed to snatch a leg then managed to get his arms cinched around the waist of Dantas. Once again, the champion was stuck against the fence but this time he quickly broke free. Dantas was then able to go on the offensive and fire off a few kicks of his own; Caldwell answered back with a head kick, and later a spinning back fist. With just over a minute to go, Dantas found himself rocked by an elbow from Caldwell. Caldwell looked for a choke, but the champ survived, and later connected with a spinning back fist as the round wore down.
A spinning back kick by Dantas kept Caldwell (and those watching) guessing early in the third. Caldwell would shoot for a takedown moments later, but Dantas’ takedown defense seemed to improve as the fight wore on. Caldwell would look for a high single along the fence, only to be stuffed again. Caldwell would then slip, but a scramble would lead to the challenger taking Dantas’ back. Caldwell then looked for another takedown, going for a double leg. Later in the round a scramble would see Dantas on top, working from half guard. He’d finish the round on top — but was it enough to win possibly the first round of the fight for the champ?
Heading into the championship rounds, it felt as if the champ was behind, but at the same time, the challenger seemed to have hit a wall. However, early in round four Caldwell had presence of mind to go back to the well, score another takedown and again cinch his hands around Dantas’ waist. The champ, however, was able to escape and fans were treated to a great scramble that ended with Dantas securing a body triangle on Caldwell — who expertly escaped. Seconds later Dantas used a neck crank to distract Caldwell as he locked in the body triangle again, but Caldwell was able to reverse, and drop some elbows that opened up the champion. Dantas looked for a kimura, but could not get a grip and wound up with Caldwell on his back as he stood back up. Dantas would go back to the kimura again in the final minute, this time as they stood against the fence.
In the fifth and final round, there was a sense that there could be a new champion by the end of the round. Caldwell was successful with his left, and a flying knee, while Dantas seemed to be a step behind. An eye poke at the two minute mark that the ref did not see pained Caldwell, and Dantas took advantage, going on the attack. However, the champion soon found Caldwell’s hands once again clutched around his waist. They would go the distance, and in the end, Bellator had a new bantamweight champion in Darrion Caldwell!
Darrion Caldwell def. Eduardo Dantas by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 50-45)