Darrion Caldwell, North Carolina State wrestler who earned a place in the history books for winning an NCAA title in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, made an impressive first appearance in the bantamweight (135 pound) division for the Bellator MMA organization in Temecula, Calif. Friday night.
The former Wolfpack champ, who had been competing as a featherweight in the 145-pound class until now, scored a unanimous decision over Rafael Silva in a three-round match which judges scored 29-28, 29-28, 29-28. The amateur wrestling website InterMat labeled Caldwell’s latest match “the toughest test of the former North Carolina State wrestler’s MMA career.” InterMat went on to say, “The 27-year-old Caldwell dominated much of the might, taking Silva down multiple times, including once by hip toss, and using an effective top game. Silva had his moments in the second round, but was unable to take control of the fight.”
In its analysis of the fight, MMAJunkie.com wrote, “Caldwell worked his takedowns from the first round, fending off the sweep and submission attempts of Silva to remain in top position where he worked his ground and pound game. Silva went to leg lock attempts multiple times in the opening frame but each time found him back stuck to the canvas with Caldwell using the opportunity to pass guard.”
Prior to his match with Silva, Caldwell told MMAFighting.com, “I feel like Joe Warren pretty much gave me the blueprint, and I’m just going to stick to that,” mentioning the former University of Michigan wrestler who won World and Pan American titles in Greco-Roman wrestling before launching his MMA career. “I hate to really say that, but I got the blueprint. I’m ready for this fight.”
Since making his professional MMA debut in September 2012, Caldwell has built a perfect 7-0 record, with one knockout, two submissions, and four decisions… while Silva, who has been in MMA for a decade, falls to 22-5. The former Wolfpack wrestler now known as “The Wolf” is now 4-0 since his first appearance in Bellator in March 2014. In fact, after defeating Silva, Caldwell issued something of a challenge to the Bellator MMA president, saying, “Scott Coker, I’m here to be your guy, your 135-pound bantamweight champion. Give me the opportunity and I’m going to thrive.”
Caldwell is one of the most successful wrestlers to emerge from NC State, winning three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) titles and compiling an overall record of 109-13. However, Caldwell’s match most college wrestling fans remember is his incredible upset of defending champ Brent Metcalf of the University of Iowa at the 2009 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. The Wolfpack mat star scored a stunning 11-6 win over Metcalf, in what the late wrestling historian Jay Hammond considered to be one of the three top upsets in NCAA finals history, along with Larry Owings of the University of Washington toppling then-undefeated Dan Gable of Iowa at the 1970 NCAAs, and unheralded University of Northern Colorado’s Jack Flasche taking out Oklahoma State muscleman (and defending champ) Phil Kinyon at the 1962 NCAAs.