Darrion Caldwell didn’t realize it, but he needed to be humbled — and that’s exactly what happened ahead of his first fight in over a year.
Caldwell returns to Bellator 290 and will face Nikita Mikhailov, a preliminary bantamweight bout. The event takes place Feb. 4 at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif., and the main will serve as the first promotional event to air on CBS.
It will be Caldwell’s first fight since January 2022, a third-round TKO loss to Enrique Barzola at Bellator 273 — the third straight loss for Caldwell. With a year of reflection, rebuilding, and rehabilitation, Caldwell is ready to return.
” A lot of my time has been spent building — taking everything off that I used to, that lingered and becoming coachable again,” Caldwell explained to MMA Fighting.
“I got a little bit of surgery since I was battling with some injuries the last couple of years, so it feels good to be healthy for this camp and getting that extra stuff done with.”
When he entered the promotion in 2014, Caldwell went on an incredible run that led to winning the Bellator bantamweight title and defending it twice. He would go on to lose the title, and consecutive fights, to Kyoji Horiguchi in December 2018 at RIZIN 14 and Bellator 222. Since then, Caldwell picked up a pair of wins, and now he finds himself in the longest losing streak of his career.
With finding success through most of his MMA career, the 35-year-old Caldwell felt like he just needed to make a few tweaks to his game, and that he was doing everything the correct way. After his defeat to Barzola Caldwell had to talk to his Kill Cliff FC coaches, which forced him to reevaluate everything.
“It’s one of those things where it’s almost impossible for you to realize,” Caldwell said. It’s only when coaches such as Greg Jones or Henri Hooft tell you the truth that you will realize what it really is. Not necessarily what you think, but what it actually is. It was impossible for me to know I needed a shift, but the coaches here were real with me and telling me how I’ve been showing up.
” In my head, I just have to show up. That’s all. You can’t make yourself push as hard as another person. That’s been the biggest thing for me is giving up control and just letting go. Greg Jones says to me that you aren’t giving your best effort and I agree, so I must let go of control. That’s been an adjustment for me, just how to be coachable again because I’ve been stuck in my own ways. I show up, I think I’m doing things right, then Henri will pull me aside and say, ‘You are doing this thing right here, and then it happens in a fight and you quit like you did here.’ It takes people being real with you for you to be able to realize these things.”
Caldwell was never short on confidence, he admits, but after speaking with his coaches and being taken to a different place mentally as a pro MMA fighter, it’s been back to the basics before building the foundation to the next chapter of his career.
“It was real f****** rough. It’s been really humbling,” Caldwell explained. It’s difficult to let go of your pride. It’s not easy for top guys to do this, but it is what the greatest men do. That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s been working, and everyone is going to see that Feb. 4 when I’m locked in.
“[Some] I consider it a revelation. I refer to it as a resurrection because I have been there. What else can I feel that I haven’t already experienced? It’s impossible to lose the same amount of money as before. There’s no emotions for me right now, it’s just putting in the work and staying locked in. It’s a resurrection. It’s a resurrection. I have come to terms and accepted who I am. It’s been a learning experience for me that it is possible to be who I am and still be content with my life. People can relate to that.”
Mikhailov also wants to be back on track. He was defeated in the last round by Barzola at Bellator 278,, snapping a 5-fight winning streak. The 24-year-old began his Bellator career with a decision win over Brian Moore at Bellator 269 in October 2021 and a third-round TKO win over Blaine Shutt at Bellator 273 in January 2022.
Caldwell has big aspirations in 2023, and even hopes to face Patricio Pitbull if the featherweight champion is interested in moving down to 135. Caldwell isn’t looking too far ahead, however, because to get to where he wants to go, it starts with beating Mikhailov on a massive event for the promotion.
” “It meant a lot. It’s all I wanted,” Caldwell stated about the event. “I want to get back on track and back in the spotlight because that’s what I’m going to do on Feb. 4. I know it’s the Bader and Fedor card, but I want to come in and steal the show. No matter where I am on the card, I will do my best to be the talk of the fight.
“It’s my job to make sure that there is buzz in the arena and around the world after my fight. It’s my goal to show up on the ring and be myself. This is the most physically healthy I have ever been. I want to show up and do my very best. 2023 will be the year I finally break out. I’ve been in big spots before. I’ve been up, I’ve been down, and now I want to break through again.”