NEW YORK (WCBS)- Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion “The Wolf” Caldwell is making his homecoming this weekend when he fights Kyoji Horiguchi at Bellator 222 on Friday, June 14 at the world-famous Madison Square Garden. Born and raised in Rahway, New Jersey, Caldwell is making his first appearance at the Garden this weekend and the moment is a big one for him.
“Growing up, MSG was the mecca of all sports for me. I grew up in combat sports,” said Caldwell in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. “To have an opportunity to come back east and fight in front of my fans and family, it is going to be everything. I’m ready to put on a great performance.”
The Rahway native has been fighting his entire life, getting into scraps and playing football as a kid growing up before finding wrestling as he got older. After wrestling for all four years at Rahway High, he earned a scholarship to North Carolina State where he compiled a 109-13 record and put himself in a position to qualify for the 2012 Olympic team. Unfortunately, injuries sidetracked that dream, but Caldwell looks back on his wrestling career fondly saying it led him exactly where he’s supposed to be.
“At one point I was at the pinnacle of the sport beating Brent Metcalf who, at the time he was looked at as the next Dan Gable or the next Cael Sanderson,” said Caldwell. “For me, after beating him, it just really catapulted my career. Then I had some injuries and it kind of shifted me away from wrestling and I think it was for the better. Had I never gotten injured I would probably still wrestling. I know my calling was fighting and I was born to fight. So I think everything worked out for a reason.”
Now he enters Friday night’s fight with a 13-2 professional record in MMA and holding a championship belt. His MMA career has been a success and he’ll have the chance to avenge one of his two losses when he goes against Hiroguchi on Friday. The last time these two men fought, Horiguchi got the better of Caldwell 1:19 into round 3 earning a submission via guillotine choke. Caldwell says that in training for the rematch, his entire mindset has been different.
“First time we fought it was probably a different mental state,” said Caldwell. “I was focused on the belt. I was focused on things that I shouldn’t have been focused on. Now, it’s about my legacy and what I came into this sport for and that is to be the greatest fighter of all time.”
As for how he makes sure that the rematch ends differently than the first bout, Caldwell says the key is simple. Remain focused.
“Just staying in his face,” said Caldwell. “Mixing up my striking, my wrestling and ultimately, my focus. If I stay focused it’s going to be a short night for this man.”
Caldwell vs. Hiroguchi opens up the six fight main card of Bellator 222 on Friday night beginning at 10 p.m. live on DAZN.