Bellator 204: “Caldwell vs. Lahat” comes to Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., tomorrow night (Fri., Aug. 17, 2018), featuring Bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell (12-1) facing off with Featherweight fighter Noad Lahat (12-3) on a non-title main event on Paramount Network.
This is an intriguing fight for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that a champion is going up in weight for a non-title bout. One has to instantly wonder if Caldwell feels there’s no worthy challengers for him at 135 pounds right now. Of course, Michael McDonald might disagree, but sadly he’s dealing with yet another hand injury.
Another possibility is that Caldwell simply feels like he can do it so he should do it. After all, mixed martial arts (MMA) has suddenly become replete with fighters who can win big in two weight classes. Conor McGregor did it. Daniel Cormier did it. If Caldwell is successful at 145 pounds, perhaps Patricio Pitbull is next.
Caldwell answers these questions and more in an exclusive interview with MMAmania.com below, wasting no time explaining why he wants to fight at Featherweight.
“For one reason and one reason only, man — two division champion. Here’s the thing — I’m 5-0 at 145, 3-0 (at 145) inside the Bellator cage, so this will be 4-0. Noad Lahat is sort of a replica of a ‘Pitbull,’ he’s just not as athletic. He’s just as explosive, but he’s not as athletic you know, so he’s a good indicator of where I’m at, where I stack back up with these (1)45ers moving forward to the (1)45 pound belt. Just thinking about that (1)45 pound belt just like … ooh, gives me the chills.”
As some of our readers are no doubt doing right now I checked his math. Two sites list him as 6-0 before his Bantamweight debut at Bellator 137. His three fights prior were in Bellator so we have to presume one of the other three was not at 145 pounds. He’s also not counting his Bellator 159 loss, which is reasonable since his opponent missed weight and created a bout between two weight classes.
Caldwell’s answer does pose another question — why chase being a two division champion? A few fighters have done it successfully, but were either stripped of one or vacated both belts to move on.
“I started my career at (1)45 pounds, (so) it’s sort of like D.C. getting away from Heavyweight, you know? Obviously (Cormier) is a great example of how to act and how to move forward in this sport you know being that he’s what either the second or third two division champion in UFC history? So he’s a great example, but I never had (emulating) D.C. in my plan.”
Once again my inner MMA nerd was asking, “Did he mean two divisions at different times, like Randy Couture, Georges St-Pierre and B.J. Penn, or two divisions at the same time, like Daniel Cormier and Conor McGregor?” In my head that makes at least five two-weight champions in UFC, but let’s get back to Caldwell talking smack.
“These guys at (1)35 were a little bit slow when I was fighting at (1)45. The (1)35 pounds division they were just like rotating the belt. The belt would go here, then it would go to Joe (Warren), then it would go to Galvao, and then Dantas. I just felt like nobody was really there, and no one was really serious about that belt. To have that belt you know it’s a serious thing and I felt like they were just making a mockery of it. My goal was to go down, get the belt at that spot, I knew it would take a little bit more time for me to get a title shot at (1)45 because the weight class was so deep.”
Caldwell’s message is coming through loud and clear. In short, he feels like he always was and is a Featherweight, but he took a vacation to mop up one division and now wants clean up another.
“You know as a champion, especially when you’re willing to step up to go up a weight class, you can’t be denied a title fight especially when I’m 5-0 at the weight class. God willing everything goes the way it’s supposed to go in my eyes, to execute the gameplan that I’ve been working on to execute.”
We’ll get back to that gameplan for Lahat in a second. First, Caldwell wants you to know he’s always wanted to stand out from the crowd in MMA.
“The goal has always been two division champion, you know? I didn’t get into this sport to be mediocre or just to be average. And so … that’s what this is about.”
To achieve greatness, though, he’ll have to go through an Israeli Defense Forces veteran with two knockouts and six submissions in his 12 wins — a 75 percent finishing rate — certainly no easy task.
“I’m sure Noad Lahat doesn’t get a lot of submissions off his back. Coming from a judo background, I’m pretty sure he likes to throw guys, slam them and take their back or pound them out. He doesn’t do much grappling off his back — neither do I. That’s where this battle is going to be. Who’s going to be the guy who’s imposing their will to make sure they are where they want to be? Again we’re both submission guys on top. I get on top I can submit you. He gets on top he can submit you. It’s a battle of who’s gonna be on top. I just don’t feel like his judo is crisp enough, I don’t think he’s ready for the attacks that he’s going to see, the dynamic diversity, he’s not going to have seen that ever.”
Bold words from the Bantamweight champion, but not nearly as surprising as Caldwell asking me what I wanted to see in the fight. On the spot I called for one round standing followed by a rear-naked choke.
“Okay so I think that’s gonna be the gameplan. I don’t think I’m gonna sit in the pocket with him now, that’s not my game plan to sit in the pocket, but I’ll move around with him on the feet, I’ll pick him apart on my feet, and then second round I’ll take him down and finish him.”
Now we all have something to witness we’ve never seen before — a fighter executing a finish proposed to him in an interview. Whether or not it happens this weekend, you can look forward to an exciting main event fight.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of “Caldwell vs. Lahat” resides here at MMA Mania all week long.
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