UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Brandon Calton caught word of the rumblings a few weeks ago, but at the time he didn’t know if they were true.
There were rumors that Bellator was looking for a heavyweight, and his name was in the conversation. Those rumors eventually turned out to be true, and the consideration became a fight against Jake Hager at Bellator 250 – a major opportunity.
“It’s just a blessing,” Calton told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “To be fighting with Showcase MMA not even in August and to get the call to come to Bellator to fight Jack Swagger, it’s a true blessing.”
This will be Calton’s first major promotional rodeo in MMA but not his first experience in a major professional sport. After a standout collegiate football career at East Tennessee State University, Calton was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Pittsburgh Steelers and spent training camp with the NFL team in 2004 before a brief second stint in 2005.
“I enjoyed that environment,” Calton said. “When you play in front of 80,000 people, it doesn’t really phase you. I’m not having an audience here, so it’s going to be a different environment. The way I see it, Mr. Swagger, he’s been in the show for a long time. He’s used to this kind of environment. It’s a pleasure to be here. It really is a blessing.”
Nowadays Calton works for the government and took days off to partake in Bellator 250. What exactly does Calton do for the government? He’d prefer to keep that on the down low.
“No comment,” Calton said.
Now that he’s here on one of the biggest stages MMA has to offer, Calton recognizes he’s not the prototypical Bellator debutant. Three months ago, Calton reached a milestone unusual of most 2-0 fighters: his 40th birthday. At an age when many MMA fighters are hanging up the gloves, Calton is still getting used to strapping on his gloves.
“I know my age factor, being a big difference,” Calton said. “But I’d like to think at my age I’m in pretty good shape. I just love fighting. There’s just something about getting in the cage with somebody and just going to war.
Calton (2-0 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) acknowledged how it looks to those who don’t know him or his abilities. But every great underdog story begins with doubters.
“I come from a catch-wrestling background,” Calton said. “That’s what we train in. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an All-American wrestler. I respect that. I have respect for who he is. I appreciate him taking the fight, but we have a strategy that’s probably going to be a little bit different than what he’s probably ever seen before.”
Since news broke that he’d be fighting Hager (2-0 MMA, 2-0 BMMA), Calton said the support from those back home has motivated him full to the brim. Calton is feeling the love.
“It’s been amazing,” Calton said. “Everybody has been blowing my phone up … sending stuff on PayPal, giving donations and sponsorships. People who are living paycheck to paycheck are donating $50 here, $100 here just to see me come up here and do well.”
In return for their support both financial and verbal, Calton feels obliged to hold up his end of the bargain by giving his all. Hager is 2-0-1 in his career, with all three fights ending in short order. Calton isn’t willing to be just another name on someone else’s resume without putting up a fight.
“(I’m not going) to go in there and not just lay down and do what other people have done,” Calton said. “I’m not just here to show up. I want to win. That’s what I’m here for. … I promised I’m not going to lay down. It’s just not going to happen. It’s just not in my blood.
“Being from Southwestern Virginia (and) Tri-Cities Tennessee, we’re just a little bit different down there. We’re hard-working coal miners just trying to make a living. I’m just living my dream.”
Bellator 250 takes place Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The main card airs on CBS Sports Network after prelims on MMA Junkie.