Bellator 228: Money’s Just the Icing on the Cake, 145lb Title the Goal, Says Darrion Caldwell

Darrion Caldwell
Darrion Caldwell vs. Kyoji Horiguchi Credit: Bellator MMA

It’s not about the money — though it is a nice bonus, Darrion Caldwell tells us. He faces Henry Corrales as the opening round of the featherweight grand prix continues at Bellator 228.

Former Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell (13–3) returns to action this week at Bellator 228, and when he does, it will be part of the opening round of the Bellator featherweight grand prix.

It’s familiar territory for Caldwell, who fought in the weight class previously, and has been adamant about his goal to become a two-division champion in the promotion.

His initial reaction to the call to join the grand prix is something Caldwell expanded on for Cageside Press leading into the fight.

“Honestly when I got the call, I was about to go on this roller coaster,” he recalled. “I was in Six Flags. It was one of the bigger roller coasters, and I was kind of like sh*tting myself, I’m like ‘oh f*ck, I don’t know if I want to get on this ride.”

“I got a text message from my manager, like ‘check this out, you’re in the featherweight grand prix.’ So I get the name, Henry Corrales. I’m like ‘f*ck.'” The pair have something of a history, as friends and training partners.

“I just sat cageside, watching this guy fight a massive fight against Aaron Pico, he did really f*cking well, he looked phenomenal,” said Caldwell. “They’re throwing that name at me, that’s not a person I expected to fight. We’ve trained before and stuff.”

The roller coaster then became something of a metaphor for the fight. “So I’m walking up to this roller coaster. I’m like, I can either b*tch out from this roller coaster, and that’s going to say a lot about you in your life, or you man up, you jump in this roller coaster, and you go head first into the grand prix, and you take that name you don’t want to take.”

“At the end of the day, I’ll fight my mom for a million dollars.”

For Caldwell, it was time to get on the ride. “So I said I’m going to step up. I jump on that roller coaster, I killed it, that sh*t was lovely, I enjoyed it, it was a nice ride. And that’s the same thing I’m going to do here at the grand prix. I’m going to step up, I’m going to kill it, I’m going to enjoy it. And it’s going to be a nice ride.”

Fighting a friend, however, won’t be easy. Donald Cerrone did it recently, at UFC Vancouver, but notably, opponent Justin Gaethje struggled with it. “How complicated would it be to fight your buddy?” questioned Caldwell when asked about the prospect.

He’ll get through it, however. “This is the thing. There’s a million dollars on the line. At the end of the day, I’ll fight my mom for a million dollars.”

While he wasn’t necessarily expecting Bellator to have a million dollars on the line, like they do for the grand prix, “I’m honestly grateful to have an opportunity by the best organization in the world to be able to fight for such a large amount of money.”

The money, however, “that’s just the icing on the cake, for me,” added Caldwell. “My goal is to be a 45lb world champion. I had that goal when I first came in the sport. Not only to be a 35lb champion but a 45lb champion. When I head the grand prix was sixteen men in one tournament, something I grew up doing, wrestling-style bracket, that fit me so well,” he told us.

And it’s also the perfect scenario, leaving little question come the end who the best featherweight really is. “Absolutely,” agreed Caldwell. “Just because it leaves no doubt. Anything can happen in this tournament, but when there’s a set date, format— these are the best sixteen fighters in the world. It’s a fact, because we had these guys fighting the last two years.”

“The best sixteen are here in this tournament. For me, that’s everywhere I want to be,” he added.

As for Corrales, Caldwell has previously called him a killer. “I just see a well-rounded fighter. I don’t think he’s had an easy time here in Bellator,” he said of his opponent. “They fed him to the sharks early on. I think Henry has all the tools to be a champion, but I just feel like stylistically, him versus me, man to man, it’s not a night that he’s going to win.”

Caldwell will enter the grand prix off back-to-back losses to Kyoji Horiguchi, who holds both the Bellator MMA and RIZIN FF bantamweight belts. There were plenty of lessons learned from those losses, Caldwell explained.

“I took away a lot. Obviously the biggest thing was that you’ve got to have people around you that want to see you succeed and want to see you win,” he said, “and put you in places to do that, not just talk about it or think about it. This is my life, this is my well-being on the line. It’s about having the right people around me.”

He feels he has that now. “Nothing’s perfect, but it’s as perfect for me as it can be. Over the years, you realize some things and you mature and you grow, you see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been knowing myself as a martial artist for the last 24, 25 years, wrestling since I was seven years old,” Caldwell continued. “I know me, I know how I respond, I know how I react. I need outside feedback too, to evaluate it and make it my own, but overall, I feel like I’m in the perfect spot.”

Bellator 228 takes place Saturday, September 28 at The Forum in Inglewood, California.