Bellator MMA is possibly the fastest growing promotion in the sport. It is the home to some of the world's best talent. While fighters such as Eddie Alvarez, Gegard Mousasi, and Rory MacDonald have seen success in in both the UFC and Bellator, other champions have called Bellator home for most their careers. Great champions such as Ben Askren and Michael Chandler made their careers in Bellator and should be considered some of the greatest fighters in their weight classes, regardless of promotion. These four fighters have dominated in Bellator and despite a lack of recognition, are some of the greatest fighters alive.
Former Bellator Welterweight Champion is one of the best fighters in the world in one of the deepest divisions. He recently lost his belt in a very close fight with former UFC title contender Rory MacDonald. Anyone who saw MacDonald attempt to walk after that fight will tell you that Lima proved his world class abilities. Lima has victories over Lorenz Larkin, Ben Saunders, and Paul Daley on his record. The Brazilian is known for his versatility and devastating kicks. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with a Muay Thai background and has finished 13 of his 29 wins by knockout and 11 by submission.
Lima's career took quite awhile to blossom. He had 22 fights on the local circuit before being signed to Bellator in 2011. After three straight wins to start his career with the promotion, Lima was given his first shot at the title. He was defeated by Ben Askren but continued to improve and eventually captured the vacant title two years later. Lima lost the title to Andrey Koreshkov before taking it back in a rematch. He hopes to reenact this situation as soon as possible with Rory MacDonald.
WIth just three fights outside of the promotion, Darrion Caldwell is a home-grown champion of Bellator. The only loss in the bantamweight's 12-1 career came to Joe Taimanglo due to a freak submission. Caldwell shot in for a takedown less than 10 seconds into the third round and found himself stuck in a guillotine. He was forced to tap but got revenge, earning a decision victory over Taimanglo in his very next fight before taking down one of the all-time Bellator greats, Eduardo Dantas to claim the bantamweight belt. Caldwell solidified his place as the bantamweight king earlier this year by defeating Leandro Higo in dominant fashion to retain his title.
Darrion Caldwell has been a world class athlete for years. He is a former Division I NCAA Wrestling Champion with NC State. During his collegiate years, Caldwell qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times and became an All-American twice. He was a four time ACC Champion and won the national title as a junior. His wrestling skills have transition beautifully into MMA. Caldwell has been able to smother opponents and has finished five fights by submission.
Also known as Patricio Pitbull, Freire is one of the greatest featherweights alive. He is also half of one of the greatest rivalries in the sport with Daniel Straus. The pair have fought three times for the belt and Pitbull has the 2-1 edge. Patricio Pitbull won the Bellator title in 2014 by defeating Pat Curran who had previously beaten him in a title bout the year before. His first defense was a win over Straus by submission. After another defense, Straus got another crack at the belt. He got the better of Pitbull this time, earning a five round decision win in 2015. Finally, in April 2017, Pitbull took the belt back, choking out Straus for a second time and earning the edge in the trilogy.
As Daniel Straus and many others have found out, Patricio Pitbull is one of the last men in MMA that you would want on your back. He has finished 11 fights by submission as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt but is no slouch on the feet either. His constant forward pressure backs fighters into the cage where Pitbull unloads a barrage of head shots. He has nine knockouts on his professional record. Patricio Freire is currently recovering from injury but Daniel Weichel is his most likely his opponent for his first defense of a second title reign.
The current Bellator Middleweight Champion is one to watch anytime he walks into the cage. At 15-1 he is undefeated inside the Bellator cage and has not lost since the very first fight of his career. Carvalho has defended the belt three times and knocked out three of his four opponents in title fights. He was most recently seen knocking out Alessio Sakara with a brutal elbow to defend his title for a third time at Bellator 190.
Carvalho is an elite striker that has finished 12 of his 16 fights by knockout. He has devastating kicks and can produce a highlight reel finish at any moment. The only criticisms to Carvalho's legacy, are the quality of his opponents. Bellator has not had the deepest middleweight division in the past but that is quickly changing. Carvalho will finally get a massive fight at Bellator 200 when he defends his belt against former Strikeforce Champion and UFC standout, Gegard Mousasi. If Carvalho can get the win and defend his title for a fourth time, he has to be in the conversation regarding the best middleweights on the planet.
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