Bellator MMA featherweight Juan Archuleta improved his record with the promotion to 2-0 with a resounding knockout of Robbie Peralta at Bellator 201 on June 29. At 30 years of age and 17-1 overall, the former Division I wrestler is graduating from a top prospect to a contender. According to Archuleta, everything is going according to plan, a plan that he has been carefully crafting since before embarking on his fight career. A major part of that master plan revolved around his choice of coaches and gyms. Although he had good coaches while wrestling for Purdue University, Archuleta never attained the goals he wanted in collegiate competition. As he contemplated the jump to mixed martial arts, he felt he needed something more.
“It was a team of coaches that I needed, and that I had envisioned when I [transitioned] to MMA,” Archuleta told Sherdog.com.
Since Archuleta already had a relationship with former “The Ultimate Fighter” winner Joe Stevenson through his father, the Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran was an easy choice to be his head coach. However, Archuleta didn’t rest there.
“I was always out there seeking the best [to train with],” he said.
Not only has he worked with Stevenson, “The Spaniard” has had training stints at acclaimed gyms such as Jackson-Wink MMA and Team Alpha Male, the latter of which led to an invitation to be an assistant coach to Joseph Benavidez on “TUF.”
Archuleta’s decision to sharpen his skills from the beginning with top-shelf trainers and fighters helped him achieve his greatest claim to notoriety so far: being a four-division champion for King of the Cage. That, too, was all part of the plan. Archuleta had once hoped to go undefeated in his career. When that dream was ended by his sixth fight, he and his mentor, Stevenson, looked for a different way to distinguish him from every other fighter in the sport.
“Maybe that’s our destiny,” Archuleta said, recalling his conversations with his coach. “[I’ll] become pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world.”
During a meeting with KOTC CEO Terry Trebilcock, Archuleta was asked what he could offer that would make him easy to promote. The Californian fighter gave a straightforward answer: “I’ll grab all your titles from 135 and up.” He did exactly that, winning belts in the company’s bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight and junior welterweight divisions and succeeding in setting himself apart from the pack. With that, Archuleta feels he has a new plan for any promotion he goes to.
“Grabbing titles at all these different divisions. I feel like that’s my destiny,” he said.
After that remarkable run in King of the Cage, competing on a bigger stage was the next logical step for Archuleta. As for most combatants, fighting for the UFC is a major objective for Archuleta, who likens the premier promotion in MMA to its counterpart in another sport.
“Who doesn’t want to play in the NFL?” he said.
Yet when Archuleta was a free agent and the UFC contacted him to face Austin Arnett on UFC on Fox 27, he claims he did not appreciate the company’s approach. Archuleta was offered a standard deal -- commensurate with most newly-signed UFC fighters -- to fight Arnett. However, for what he had done to that point as a 17-1 fighter, he felt he had proven enough to deserve more.
“Why would I get paid the same [as] someone that’s 5-2 or taking [the fight] on short-notice?” he said.
Archuleta left the UFC’s offer on the table and the window open for other promotions to swoop in. Bellator did so, signing Archuleta to a four-fight deal. The signing has quickly paid off for the promotion, as Archuleta has dominated in his first two bouts, the most recent outing a third-round KO of UFC veteran Robbie Peralta.
Recently, Archuleta added training assistance from longtime friend and UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, as well as Dillashaw’s head coach, Duane Ludwig. Those two, along with help from Cub Swanson and stalwart lead coach Stevenson, gave Archuleta an all-star training camp as he planned and prepared for the Peralta fight. They decided on a strategy of using Archuleta’s wrestling pedigree to his advantage early.
“[The goal was] making sure his arms were heavy throughout the fight,” Archuleta said.
Using a wrestling-heavy, attrition-based approach to diminish Peralta’s punching power and get him to worry about the wrestling attack of Archuleta instead of his strikes also set up the finish. Archuleta and his coaches got Peralta thinking “low” with wrestling and kicks, and when Archuleta finally went high, it worked perfectly.
“It went as planned. Beautiful overhand right that landed on the button,” Archuleta said. “Fake, [then] to the overhand and it landed, and it was awesome.”
Archuleta claims he had hoped to fight as many as eight times this year. Because of some nagging injuries, that won’t happen. His focus now is on trying to get another fight soon; Archuleta hopes to get on a Bellator card in August or September.
“I’m a fighter and I love to fight,” he said.
The former four-division champion plans to fight next at 145 pounds but expects to move down to 135 afterwards. Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell and featherweight king Patricio Freire are both fighters Archuleta would relish facing sooner than later.
“I feel like my matchup is great against [“Pitbull”] and Darrion Caldwell as well,” Archuleta said.
Regardless of how his next several fights are booked, though, Archuleta sees Bellator as his home for the foreseeable future.
“[Bellator staff have] honestly been nothing but family to me,” he said. “I can’t see myself leaving at all or wanting to test [free agency].”
One key factor that has endeared the company to Archuleta is that they have let him be himself, rather than force him into the role of self-promoter, he maintains.
“They’re going to reward me for who I am,” Archuleta said. Everything seems to be going according to plan.