Bellator 204: “Caldwell vs. Lahat” takes place tomorrow night (Fri., Aug. 17, 2018) at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. With no other contenders on the horizon for awhile at Bantamweight, a unique non-title fight has emerged for the main event pitting two men with 12 wins each against each other for pride and glory.
Let’s break it down:
145 lbs.: Darrion Caldwell (12-1) vs. Noad Lahat (12-3)
When Darrion Caldwell walks into the Sanford Pentagon the crowd can chant “The Champ Is Here” like Jadakiss. With only one blemish on his record for his entire professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career — contested almost entirely inside the Bellator cage — Caldwell is a homegrown Bantamweight champion. He made it look it easy by wrestling Eduardo Dantas to defeat at Bellator 184, then made it look even easier with a first round finish of Leandro Higo in March. Caldwell has put such a stamp on his weight class that for the moment — at least — there’s literally nowhere to go but up.
That makes Israeli fighter Noad Lahat the man of the hour for his second main event in a row. With a 3-1 record in Bellator’s competitive Featherweight division, Lahat is certainly on the rise toward a title shot somewhere down the road. Even though he was born in Petah Tikva he fights out of American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in San Jose, already well known as one of MMA’s elite stomping grounds for current and future world champions. Lahat has scored submissions in 50 percent of his wins (six out of 12) and — given that Caldwell’s lone loss comes via a guillotine choke — that has to give Lahat a lot of confidence going into this fight.
That’s the good news for Lahat. Now, here’s the bad news: Even though he’s a naturally strong and stocky 145-pound fighter, he gives up both height (5’9” vs. 5’10”) and reach (69” to 74”) to Caldwell. “The Wolf” has always been an incredibly tall drink at Bantamweight, so going up for this fight is simply a matter of cutting less weight, which may if anything make him stronger and faster. Caldwell is also in the habit of training for five rounds, but here he can dump his gas tank quicker for a non-title fight. Even though Caldwell only has one knockout versus five submissions, his striking technique and reach are what can rock the bells of opponents to make them vulnerable to a finish. If it doesn’t come the decorated collegiate champion can double Lahat to the ground over and over to grind out a win.
Final prediction: Darrion Caldwell wins via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Logan Storley (8-0) vs. A.J. Matthews (9-7)
This fight isn’t necessarily as lopsided as their pro MMA records may indicate. Veteran experience benefits Matthews as he’s had twice as many fights at 30 as the younger Storley has at 25. Matthews has also been on the wrong end of a few split decisions, including a fight with Andre Fialho that could have gone either way. After an emotional win over his friend Kendall Grove, Matthews has proved himself ready for this fight, but Storley is as blue chip a wrestler as they come and learned from one of the best as both an amateur and a “pro.” Matthews does have some stopping power (six knockouts), but we haven’t seen it since 2014, and Storley is what Jim Ross would call a “hoss” — he’s got thick, stocky strength straight off the farm in Webster, S.D., with six knockouts. Matthews is a good test of his potential.
Final prediction: Logan Storley wins via technical knockout
135 lbs.: James Gallagher (7-0) vs. Ricky Bandejas (10-1)
Bandejas comes to Bellator straight out of Cage Fury Fighting Championship (CFFC) in New Jersey. The former CFFC interim champion boasts a 10-1 record with three knockouts and three submissions. By now you know “The Strabanimal” Gallagher, but if you need a refresher he’s a training partner of Conor McGregor out of Straight Blast Gym (SBG) in Dublin, Ireland, submitting all but one opponent he has faced. Gallagher is so young (21) that he can only be getting better with age, and that’s a scary prospect for nearly every Featherweight out there — only he’s going the opposite direction of Caldwell and cutting to 135 pounds. He’ll still be the bigger man at 5’9” vs. 5’7,” so if he doesn’t have a difficult drawn out weight cut this is his fight to lose, although Bandejas didn’t sign a multi-fight deal just to be anyone’s stepping stone.
Final prediction: James Gallagher via majority decision
145 lbs.: Tywan Claxton (2-0) vs. Cris Lencioni (4-1)
Featherweight prospects get a nice share of the main card spotlight on the same night as Gallagher thanks to this bout. Tywan Claxton’s nickname is “Speedy” although only one of his professional wins was “fast” per se — his flying knee knockout of Jonny Bonilla-Bowman at Bellator 186. That highlight reel finish gained him some viral fame and a bigger push from Bellator though, so he’ll get another fight with a slightly more experienced man. If Claxton keeps it standing he should score the win whether or not he makes the highlight reel again.
Final prediction: Tywan Claxton via unanimous decision
That’s a wrap!
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