Combate Americas bantamweight champion Gustavo Lopez discusses the journey from the promotions early days to his title defense against Joey Ruquet in the main event of Combate Tahoe.
Today, Combate Americas has developed a strong presence in the MMA landscape. Their shows on Univision on frequently deliver strong ratings as they are the premiere programming on Friday nights on Spanish television. In English, they are promoted alongside established Bellator MMA on the DAZN streaming service.
Their current bantamweight champion, however, remembers a time when such things were still just the lofty ambitions of an upstart company. Gustavo Lopez, who made his promotional debut in the Combate Americas’ second ever event back in 2015, says that those early days had none of the attention that the company has now.
“In 2015, Combate seemed like any other regular promotion. They had fighters and they had good fights. But they didn’t have the media, they didn’t have the staff, and the marketing that they do now. That’s why I think they’ve grown. I’ve seen the company grow and people get interested and appreciate the Hispanic fighters that bring a lot of heart into La Jaula. It’s beautiful to see the company grow and I’m blessed to be part of it and to see when they weren’t able to pay the fighters good and didn’t have the marketing. Now that they do, it’s become a world class promotion. I’m blessed to be a part of it and to be a champion of the promotion.”
This past March, he stopped bantamweight champion José “El Pochito” Alday in the first round to exact revenge from their epic 2018 collision that was one of the best fights of the year. He has since become a brand ambassador for the company, seen cageside at nearly every event with his championship belt and doing media everywhere from Los Angeles to Miami. It’s an experience he doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s been really nice. Before this I wasn’t really able to travel because I come from a really poor family that barely makes it and goes from check to check. So they’ve seen me grow with the company and being a champion and brand ambassador. Then being part of a company that sends you to different places like Univision and ESPN. Also, the people they choose to put on the show, like Univision is a huge company and they don’t just put anybody on there. The fact that they’re interested in having Combate Americas and having their fighters on there just speaks volumes that we are a world class promotion.”
The way to the championship was not a straight line for Lopez. His first attempt came in 2016 where he lost to John Castaneda by fourth-round TKO. To add salt to the wound, Castaneda missed weight for their bout and was unable to become champion himself which led to the belt remaining vacant for two more years following the fight. After briefly leaving the promotion in 2017, he returned to the company to challenge then-champion Alday on two days notice. Their slugfest did not go his way, but he would exact revenge months later to win the title.
His upcoming opponent, Joey Ruquet, is both new and familiar at the same time. “El Cazador” is also a veteran from the early days of the company, whom Lopez defeated in his second appearance in Combate back in 2015 by second round arm-triangle choke. On how he sees the fight between himself and Ruquet on Friday, Lopez says:
“He has always come in shape. He puts in a lot of miles but my cardio is amazing right now. He’s a good fighter all around. He’s got good striking, good jiu-jitsu, but the difference between then and now is that my striking wasn’t as good. He didn’t have to worry that much about my striking, now he does. And then my wrestling has evolved as well, in jiu-jitsu I went from being a blue belt to a high level brown. I know he’s improved but is it going to be enough? Is it going to be up to my standard where I’ve worked 15 years to be this good? It’s only been a few years since we fought. Has he gotten better? I haven’t really seen it in his fights since then. But he’s a gritty fighter. He gets in there and he wins so good for him.”
Familiar foes appear to wait for Lopez should he win. John Castaneda made his return to action earlier this year and a trilogy with José Alday is another match-up. But the champion says those are all things he intends to discuss after Friday night.
“I’m not really worried about that. I’m focused on this fight right now. After this fight we’ll talk with the promotion about what they want to do with me. But I really have not thought about who I’m going to fight next. I’m literally 100% focused on Ruquet and worried about this now.”
Combate Americas bantamweight champion Gustavo Lopez will face Joey Ruquet in the main event of Combate Tahoe TONIGHT at 6 p.m. PT on Univision in Spanish and on DAZN in English.