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Darrion Caldwell hopes Bellator 253 finish of A.J. McKee, matchup vs. 'Pitbull' are in near future

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Darrion Caldwell has set both long-term and short-term goals.

First up, he needs to defeat A.J. McKee at Bellator 253 on Thursday when the two featherweights meet in a grand prix semifinal matchup.

Caldwell (14-3 MMA, 11-2 BMMA) doesn’t think McKee (16-0 MMA, 16-0 BMMA), despite having undefeated credentials, has faced anyone quite like him – especially in the wrestling department.

“Never,” Caldwell told MMA Junkie on Tuesday. “I feel like he’s been not necessarily sheltered, but he’s been brought up the right way. He’s been given the right fights to be in the position that he’s in today. He’s never really fought a guy like me. It’s going to show come Thursday.”

“I don’t think he’s fought anybody as athletic as me, who moves the way I move, who’s as dominant in one position as I am. I’m as dominant of a wrestler as you can find. When I get this guy on his back, he’s going to see just how dominant that aspect is.”

If Caldwell wins Thursday, he’ll advance to the grand prix final targeted for the mid-2021. The other side of the bracket has a semifinal fight between Bellator featherweight champion Patricio Freire and Emmanuel Sanchez in the works. Caldwell would face the winner – and he hopes it’s Freire (31-4 MMA, 19-4 BMMA).

“I’ve always wanted to get my hands on Patricio, you know?” Caldwell said. “That’s the GOAT. For him to win that fight, it’s important to me.”

Regardless whether or not he walks away from the Bellator featherweight grand prix as champion, Caldwell expects to move back down to bantamweight at some point in the future.

Having lost back-to-back fights and the Bellator bantamweight championship to RIZIN star Kyoji Horiguchi, Caldwell’s departure from 135-pound competition has left a sour taste in his mouth.

“Obviously, my time at 135 isn’t done,” Caldwell said. “I have some things I have to take care of down there and I think he’ll be in the mix with the best guys in Bellator. He’s not going anywhere outside of his injury. I think me and Horiguchi will settle our beef again. … I’m super light. I stay sizeable for 135.

“For me, I’ll eventually make my way back down but I’ve got business here to take care of. A.J. is next in line and I’m going to go after that ‘milli’.”

Bellator 253 takes place Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The main card airs on CBS Sports Network after prelims on MMA Junkie.

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