Eduardo Dantas has spent the past year consolidating power atop the Bellator MMA bantamweight division. Consider one threat removed.
Dantas picked apart Joe Warren across five rounds, retained his bantamweight crown and avenged his October 2014 defeat to the self-professed “Baddest Man on the Planet” with a majority decision in their Bellator 166 rematch on Friday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. Scores were 49-44, 48-46 and 47-47.
The Nova Uniao ace tore into Warren with a punishing jab and cruel kicks to his lead leg. Dantas also minimized his time in the clinch with the 2006 FILA Wrestling World Championship Greco-Roman gold medalist and denied all but one of his bids for takedowns. Confined to the standup, Warren slipped into a state of desperation and spent the majority of his time charging forward and running into punches. A point deduction for low blows was all that stood between Dantas and a clean sweep on the scorecards.
After Dantas put out one fire, another sprang forth. Darrion Caldwell on Saturday emerged as the No. 1 contender at 135 pounds by virtue of his unanimous decision over Joe Taimanglo at Bellator 167.
In wake of Bellator 166 and Bellator 167, here are five matches that ought to be made:
Eduardo Dantas vs. Darrion Caldwell: A dream matchup in the bantamweight division pits Dantas against perhaps his gravest threat. The Brazilian champion improved to 9-1 under the Bellator banner with his systematic dismantling of the aforementioned Warren, as he continued to cement himself as the Scott Coker-led promotion’s top dog at 135 pounds. Caldwell was an NCAA All-American wrestler at North Carolina State University, where he won a national championship in 2009. Outside of a surprising submission loss to Taimanglo at Bellator 159, the 28-year-old Rahway, New Jersey, native has made a seamless transition to MMA.
A.J. McKee vs. Emmanuel Sanchez: McKee remains on the fast track to stardom. The undefeated 22-year-old Team Bodyshop prospect took a unanimous verdict from Ray Wood in the Bellator 166 co-main event, prompting 29-27, 30-25 and 30-27 scores from the cageside judges. It marked the first time in McKee’s six-fight career that he had gone the distance. Sanchez was his original opponent but withdrew with an injury. The Roufusport export last competed at Bellator 159 on July 22, when he wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against former M-1 Global champion Daniel Weichel.
Joe Warren vs. Joe Taimanglo: A pillar of the Bellator organization since he arrived in 2010, Warren has faced every top bantamweight on the roster, with the exception of Taimanglo. Now 40, Warren heads back to the drawing board following his decisive decision defeat to Dantas in a failed bid to reclaim the bantamweight title. Warren has alternated wins and losses in each of his past five appearances, with victories over Sirwan Kakai and L.C. Davis offset by setbacks against Dantas, Caldwell and Marcos Galvao. Taimanglo saw his four-fight winning streak grind to a halt in losing a unanimous decision to Caldwell in their Bellator 167 rematch.
Chris Honeycutt vs. Kendall Grove: Honeycutt continued to distance himself from the Jan. 26 technical knockout loss he suffered against Paul Bradley by battering Ben Reiter to a lopsided unanimous decision at Bellator 166. The two-time NCAA All-American wrestler was awarded five 10-8 rounds by the judges, as he torched Reiter with takedowns and ground-and-pound. The Peru-based New York native was a bloody mess by fight’s end, having been savaged by Honeycutt’s elbows, punches and forearm strikes. Grove last fought at Bellator 162 on Oct. 21, when he succumbed to second-round punches from former middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko.
Chidi Njokuani vs. Michael Page: No one did more to raise his stock at Bellator 167 than Njokuani, who has now rattled off six consecutive victories. The former Tachi Palace Fights champion wiped out the previously unbeaten Andre Fialho with punches a mere 21 seconds into Round 1. However, Njokuani missed weight for the match and will need to get his issues with the scale under control to reach his potential in Bellator’s welterweight division. Page improved to 12-0 with a split decision over Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 165 on Nov. 19.