Bellator 222: “MacDonald vs. Gracie” takes place TONIGHT (Fri., June 14, 2019) at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., streaming exclusively online via DAZN. The main event will see Welterweight champion Rory MacDonald (20-5-1) attempt to advance to the finals of the Grand Prix against the undefeated Neiman Gracie (9-0).
All tournament bouts where the champion is involved also have the world title on the line, but there is another title defense to look forward to Friday night as well. Bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell (13-2) will take on Rizin’s champ Kyoji Horiguchi (27-2) in a highly anticipated rematch. When the two fighters first met at Rizin 14 on New Year’s Eve, the promotion was set to crown the winner of the bout as its first 135-pound champion. Caldwell had to be the favorite going in as the bigger man (5’10” vs. 5’5”, 74” reach vs. 66” reach), but none of that mattered once Horiguchi squeezed out a guillotine choke submission in round three.
Caldwell has a lot at stake in this fight. He needs to show that he still deserves to be Bellator’s champion despite losing his last bout, and after his previous guillotine submission at Bellator 159, he needs to finally prove his aggressive takedowns aren’t also his undoing.
“The Wolf” recently answered all of these questions and more in a chat with MMAmania.com before his main card fight at Bellator 222 later this evening, starting with what he feels went wrong at Rizin 14.
“I think that last fight you seen a mental lapse. The third round my focus wasn’t on point, so I feel like so you see what happens when you’re not focused — you get tapped out when you put yourself in a bad position. And you watched the fight — that’s literally what I did.”
“I fricking put myself in a bad position. I took his legs from my hips and put them on my back which is, kind of like ... the dumbest thing you can do.”
Caldwell earns points for his bald-faced honesty here, understanding that if long-time fans remember the first Joe Taimanglo fight and got deja vu watching Kyoji Horiguchi.
“For sure. They were definitely different set ups. Joe kind of like jumped into it, he stopped my takedown and jumped into it (when) I was still on my knees, as opposed to Horiguchi where I was already on top of him in his guard. You know, my head (was) under his chin, and yeah I kind of just fell into it. They were definitely different, but at the end of the day, they (were) both mental lapses.”
If a lack of focus or concentration is to blame in both situations, how does Caldwell adjust so that he doesn’t fall victim to a mental lapse again?
“Well, it’s just a lot of things you know? But, if I gave away them secrets then everybody would be trying to use them, so that’s something I can’t speak on. But, just know the same work’s being put in but like the intensity is different, the focus is different, and my mindset is different as opposed to the first one.”
Whatever the outcome might be, Caldwell is thrilled to be part of a key Bellator card stacked with so many big names.
“I’m pumped! I’ve been watching Chael (Sonnen) and Lyoto (Machida) since my wrestling days. I never thought I’d ever be in this position. So to be on a card with them and then Rory (MacDonald) and (Neiman) Gracie, those are two names that are so popular in the sport you know? To have those guys headlining an event I’m on is awesome.”
Caldwell also believes there’s no better place than MSG to win a rematch with Horiguchi since it’s a short trip away from his hometown of Rahway, New Jersey.
“It’s just gonna make everything more sweet when I win. To have my family and friends and fans there, people who have been following my career since my middle school wrestling days, high school wrestling days, college days, now my professional MMA career, it’ll make everything more sweet.”
Their last fight in Rizin was only for its inaugural 135-pound title, so Caldwell had nothing to lose going in. If he defends his title at MSG, does he deserve a shot at Horiguchi’s title?
“Absolutely! You know I think Rizin is a great organization, and I think that after [tonight] that trilogy is going to have to be in effect. Since we already fought for my belt, let’s go fight for his. We could fight over there (in Japan).”
I asked “The Wolf” who his next divisional rival would be after Horiguchi, but Caldwell seems to have some bigger fish to fry.
“You know I want that 145-pound belt so ‘Pitbull’ he’s gonna have to get it. You know I know he want my 135 pound belt you know? So either way he’s gonna be a guy I face. I’m definitely gonna be a two division champ in Bellator — it’s as simple as that.”
That creates a dilemma on two fronts. The first problem would be figuring out which title the “Champ-Champ” Freire defends next. The second would be A.J. McKee has already called “Pitbull” out and probably wouldn’t step aside to make way for Caldwell’s shot.
“I don’t think I’d have to fight A.J. McKee. The goal is to fight ‘Pitbull’ — he’s the champ and so that’s what’s gonna happen. (If McKee doesn’t like it) that’s just gonna have to play itself out. I think Patricio is in camp right now, and so my goal is to be a 145-pound champion. When I get my hands on this guy everything will play itself out.”
I think it’s overly optimistic to assume “Mercenary” would let Caldwell cut ahead of him in line, but in the meantime check out Bellator 222 to see Caldwell can win another rematch.
Complete audio of our interview is embedded above, and complete coverage of Bellator 222: “MacDonald vs. Gracie” resides here at MMAmania.com all week long.
To check out the latest Bellator MMA-related news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive news archive right here.