Former Bellator MMA bantamweight champion Juan Archuleta returns to action at Bellator 286 this Saturday.
Archuleta (25-4) is looking to shake off back-to-back losses, the most recent of which saw him bounced from the bantamweight grand prix, in an interim fight with Sergio Pettis. Succumbing to a head kick, it was the first knockout loss of Archuleta’s career.
“A fight like that, if you’re gonna lose, that’s the way to lose, right? Dominating the fight, outclassing an opponent, and then just happening to get caught,” Archuleta told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “You’ve blocked that kick a million times in your career, and for some reason, it kind of just got your head. Like why now? Everything was in position to block the kick, my hands were up, and I just caught a knee. I went and and looked back at the fight — it was nothing that he did. He wanted to throw a body kick, and I just dipped down too low, waiting for the impact to meet. And when it met, I thought I was good, and just got caught with the knee instead of the shin.”
Archuleta sees it akin to the Usman vs. Edwards II fight at UFC 278 this past August. “Usman was just dominating him, and then, it happens, you know?”
For fans, a fighter suffering a knockout is a momentary thing — a highlight on TV that soon fades. They don’t see what comes after, in terms of recovery. In Archuleta’s case, he was able to take advantage of The MMA Lab to take brain scans and go through some hyperbaric treatment. Luckily, there were no signs of concussion. As Archuleta noted, he was still awake after the finish, but he’s also thankful to ref for stopping the fight, even after initially protesting it in the moment. “Thank goodness I had a guy like Mike Beltran who’s a veteran referee, who just knew it could have got worse. You’re like ‘alright, thanks for taking care of me.’ You just move on to the next one win or lose.”
The finish, at least, was a definitive one, unlike his loss to current champ Sergio Pettis, which ended in a decision. That doesn’t sit quite as well with “The Spaniard.”
“Guys who play defense all the time, you’re just like, it doesn’t really wow you. Like with Sergio, again, he was being dominated by [Kyoji] Horiguchi, just threw a kick and a spinning back fist. Then you’re just like ‘yeah, he was being dominated.'”
“My fight, I don’t know how judges scored that fight when I was being so offensive, and you’re rewarding a defensive fighter,” Archuleta continued. It’s something he hopes to see change in MMA.
“Our sport has to change that kind of criteria. You’re not going to reward an NBA team for playing good defense, saying ‘I know they didn’t score a bunch of buckets, but they had good defense. It’s like, yeah, okay, their defense is good, whatever. In our sport though, it’s the Mayweather effect.” And as Archuleta then pointed out, “everyone wanted to see him be knocked out because all he did was do defense.”
“Guys like this, it’s painful to watch that that’s what they reward when you’re trying to judge a mixed martial arts fight, where how many martial arts has this guy put together in a fight? That’s what they should be judging,” he continued. “Not like, ‘oh he defended a takedown, oh, he’s running, running, and pot-shotting.'”
Archuleta sees a number of fixes for the judging issue, but a big one is open scoring. “It kind of will help educate fighters a little bit better on how to fight; that way you could dominate the scorecards, and that in turn will lead into finishes and stuff like that.”
In any case, overly defensive is not a way to describe upcoming opponent Enrique Barzola. “I’m actually excited for a fight that’s going to be two offensive guys coming at it. You’re going to see a high output, high pace of martial arts put together.”
As for Barzola, “he came in making noise right away against Darrian Caldwell. Out-wrestled him, out-wrestled a guy that was a Division I national champ. That speaks volumes, to take someone and beat them where they’re best at, and then finishing him.”
Even then, Archuleta hadn’t been pursuing a fight with the TUF: Latin America winner, and wasn’t exactly keen on it initially. The former champ, now a Bellator staple, didn’t have much to gain. But the prospect of Sergio Pettis returning from injury prior to the conclusion of the bantamweight grand prix made the fight a little bit more tantalizing.
“Honestly I didn’t really want this fight, because it didn’t really make sense for me to fight. But once they told me Sergio might be ready before the tournament’s over, it kind of gave me a little more initiative to take this fight.” Archuleta had been campaigning for Kyoji Horiguchi, top featherweights, or even a 155lb fight, “just because I want the guys that are, like you said I’m a Bellator company man now, and I’ve made my name. It’s like, if I’ve made my name, let me fight some guys that are going to mark my legacy and make me a legend in the sport.”
Barzola doesn’t have that name value, not that Archuleta is taking him lightly. “But it’s definitely a contender fight to get back into the tournament if someone gets injured, and then it’s a contender fight if Sergio is ready before the tournament is over.”
Juan Archuleta faces Enrique Barzola on the main card of Bellator 286 this Saturday, October 1, 2022 in Long Beach, CA.