In the early moments of his Bellator 253 featherweight main event against AJ McKee, everything was going according to plan for Darrion Caldwell. Then it all went bad very quickly as Caldwell was forced to tap out to a neck crank in the first round. With the win, McKee advances to the finals of the Bellator Featherweight World Grand Prix.
Caldwell, a former NCAA champion wrestler and one of the few men who would hold the wrestling edge over McKee in the cage, was able to hit an early takedown, establishing top position inside the guard of McKee. The two men traded elbows in a brief exchange when Caldwell ducked his head down to the side of McKee.
Sensing an opening in the position, McKee trapped Caldwell's head and began to crank the shoulder. As he put extra pressure on the hold, Caldwell was forced to tap out to the neck crank.
The finish came at the 1:11 mark of the first round.
"As soon as we hit the ground, I immediately thought, 'Alright, I know he's going to try to work elbows,'" McKee said after his victory. "He was real adamant about having his arms on the inside and that told me he was looking to posture up and hit elbows. Alright, control the arms a little bit, look for your elbows, hit him a little bit and show him your power to get him to open up so I could sink something in. After that, he popped his head off to the side a little bit so I locked up the body triangle. From there, under hooks deep and that's all she wrote."
Caldwell will now face the winner of the other semifinal fight between Patricio Pitbull and Emmanuel Sanchez in the finals. The featherweight championship currently held by Pitbull, who also is the current lightweight champion, will be on the line in the fight and McKee delivered a message that even if Pitbull lost to the featherweight title to Sanchez in the semifinals, he'd be looking to meet him at 155 pounds.
"Man, that's the beginning of the beginning. Childhood dream, I wrote myself at 12 years old a $1 million check. I'm looking forward to cashing it in, conquering a title. And, Patricio, even if you don't make it, I'm coming for my 155-pound title, as well. I told you, it's nothing personal, you've got great accolades, but I'm the new era. I'm the new wave."
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Bellator 253 card, results
- AJ McKee def. Darrion Caldwell via first-round submission (neck crank) -- advances to Featherweight World Grand Prix final
- Jason Jackson def. Benson Henderson via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Joey Davis def. Bobby Lee via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
- Raufeon Stots def. Keith Lee via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)