BJPenn.Com Exclusive: Darrion Caldwell Talks MMA Debut and Power MMA
Darrion Caldwell has found success at every level of athletics since he was a young boy. A natural athlete, Caldwell grew up in Rahway, NJ and competed in a variety of sports, but found wrestling to be his true passion. After capturing three state high school championships, Caldwell received a full scholarship to wrestle at North Carolina State University.
The Power MMA featherweight picked up right where he left off and had an outstanding college career posting an amazing 109-13 record. One of his biggest wins came against Team Alpha Male fighter Lance Palmer. As he prepares to make his professional debut this Friday in Houston, TX, Caldwell looked back on what helped get him where he is at today.
“Along with wrestling I played football throughout my high school career,” Caldwell told BJPenn.Com. “I was 3rd team All-State my senior year and I played with Andre Neblett who is now with the Carolina Panthers. I played baseball up until my junior year of high school as well. I wound up going to North Carolina State because they gave me a wrestling scholarship and allowed me to walk on to the football team. I realized right after my freshman year that wrestling was my ticket and I had the ability to become a national champion.”
Setting goals is something that Caldwell has done from the very beginning. He enjoyed playing other sports, but realized wrestling gave him the best opportunity at becoming a professional athlete. It took him awhile to get situated, but now that he has found a home he’s ready to start the climb towards the top of the professional ranks.
“I won the national championship in 2009 at 149lbs and graduated in 2011,” said Caldwell. “I wound up doing a clinic for my friend Terry Pack who owns Legends of Gold in South Dakota. I had expressed an interest in giving MMA a shot and Pack called me up one day with Dave Martin who is now my manager and also represents Ryan Bader and Aaron Simpson. They asked me to come out to Arizona and we hit it off right from the beginning.”
Caldwell is jumping into the fire feet first. He has chosen to forgo an amateur career and will take his first fight with less than six months training under his belt. This is not the path that most athletes would have taken, but for Caldwell it was the only one he ever considered.
“I put on a pair of boxing gloves for the first time this past July,” Caldwell admitted. “I haven’t had any amateur fights, but I’ve been wrestling all my life so I figured why waste any time. I figure I’m ready to fight professionally and that’s not a knock on guys who fight as amateurs first, I just felt like I had competed at a high level for a long time and would be better off fighting professionally from the start.”
Growing up on the east coast and moving to south can be a big culture shock for anyone. After four years in North Carolina, Caldwell has packed up his things and moved cross country. It didn’t take long for him to realize he made the right decision both personally and professionally. It’s the perfect spot for a guy who prides himself on being fun, easy going and extremely loyal.
“I like the vibe here in Arizona and at the gym, it’s laid back and relaxed,” said the 24-year-old Caldwell. “There’s really no egos here, everyone is here looking to get better and trying to be the best. I like the fact that these guys are phenomenal athletes and also great people. It helps that they all have a wrestling background and can help me make the transition to MMA.”
His opponent is actually a bit younger, but does have six professional bouts and although his record is just 2-4, Caldwell is taking him very seriously. Showing a maturity beyond his years, Caldwell understands that the hard work takes place inside the gym. Wrestlers sometimes are labeled as boring, but according to Caldwell his style will excite the fans and send them home happy.
“I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game,” admitted the New Jersey native. “I feel really good about my chances and my future in this sport. We’ll see what happens this weekend. My opponent is David Armas and he’s a pretty good boxer, but I’m not too concerned with him as much as I am with myself. The fight is already won through preparation.”
“Everything I have already done is what’s going to determine the outcome. I’m going to go in there with a clear head and I expect to win. I know taking my opponent down isn’t going to be my toughest task; it’s going to be getting him down and controlling him. I plan on working and I won’t be a lay and pray guy. I want to be as exciting as possible for the fans. That’s what I did when I wrestled and I plan on doing it in MMA. I don’t know any other way, but full steam ahead.”
Legacy Fighting Championships has made a nice little niche for themselves in MMA. They offer veterans a place to try and get their careers back on track and more importantly a home for the newer generation of fighters to gain some valuable experience. Legacy also gives them a shot at being featured on TV which allows their friends and family an opportunity to watch them compete.
“I know Legacy is a pretty good organization and they do a good job of promoting their events,” Caldwell said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to be picked up by an organization like Legacy. It’s a great place for me to gain some experience and pick up some ring savvy. I signed a four fight deal with them that runs over the course of one year, but right now I plan on taking it one fight at a time and my sole focus is on David Armas.”
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