What was supposed to be one of the greatest nights of Juan Archuleta’s journey in MMA became one of the most bittersweet moments of his mixed martial arts career.
The former four-division King of the Cage champion detonated a scintillating counter right-hand bomb on the chin of former Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas’ chin and sent him collapsing to the canvas without his consciousness at Bellator 222.
The violent knockout cemented Archuleta’s status as a title contender and he’ll get his opportunity when he faces featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire in the main event of Bellator 228.
“The Spaniard” should be smiling when he recalls the highlight reel knockout that took over social media back in June. Instead, Archuleta is visibly fighting back tears.
“I didn't get to experience and enjoy the victory like I should have,” Archuleta explains while sitting on the rooftop of the Viacom building in Los Angeles after finishing his media workout. “I couldn’t because the next morning I found out that my uncle had passed away.”
Archuleta’s uncle died of a heart attack as the fighter was making his way to the cage and the loss is still fresh on the 32-year-old’s mind. The two were close and Archuleta vividly recalls speaking to his uncle earlier in the week as he was trying to figure out how to get DAZN — who was exclusively broadcasting the fight — on his television.
The loss still weighs heavily on his heart, but he promises to carry his uncle’s spirit with him into the cage when he faces one of the greatest fighters in Bellator MMA history.
“Family is everything,” he says as he wipes his eyes. “I’ve always been very close to my culture and our family has fought for so much our entire lives. And now I’ll continue fighting for my uncle and my family.”
Archuleta was born a fighter. With four older brothers beating up on him, he had no choice but to fight. But the Mexican and Spanish blood that runs through his veins has made him a fighter in a different sense. Not only is he fighting to be the best in the world, but he’s fighting for the American dream. A dream where he uses the ability inside the cage to ensure that his family is taken care of.
“When people say they're bred to do this, I'm literally bred to do this,” he says. “My family has been fighting since the 1500s. Coming to America we are fighting for what America is today. My family, the Mexican side and the Spanish side, we fought for what we loved and what we believed in. My father said to be proud of who you are, fight for what you want, and fight for who you are.”
His father fought to ensure that his family had food on the table and a roof over their heads. It’s something that he says he didn’t appreciate as much as a child but now he understands the sacrifices his father made to take care of the family.
“I hardly got to see my dad because he worked so much,” he recalls of rarely seeing the man who meant so much to him. He didn’t understand then, but he does now. “He made those sacrifices so we could survive.”
Through his father’s hard work, Archuleta would have the opportunity to wrestle at Sultana High in Hesperia, California and at Purdue University before seeing the light with mixed martial arts being a real opportunity to make money. He’s juggled jobs as an electrician along with other 9-to-5s while racking up victories in regional promotions.
Due to his experience making weight, Archuleta decided to do something unprecedented. Before Conor McGregor was the “champ-champ,” Archuleta had plans of being the “champ-champ-champ-champ” in King of the Cage.
He won the promotion’s flyweight, lightweight and bantamweight titles in 2016 and then added the light welterweight title in 2017 before getting the call to debut in Bellator MMA in June of 2018. He’s picked up four wins in a row with his last being his most destructive against Dantas.
He’ll get his first crack at the Bellator gold when he faces Pitbull in the opening round of the Featherweight Grand Prix on Saturday and already has plans to start collecting world titles across multiple weight classes.
“Absolutely,” Archuleta says when asked if he plans to duplicate the feat in Bellator. “I’m going to go out there and put on a show against Pitbull, win this tournament and then I’ll see what title is next.
“This is the modern-day Mortal Kombat where you take a guy out in each round, prove you are the best in the world and then challenge whoever is next.”
Just a few short feet away is Archuleta’s sons, who were part of his open workout. For some, fighting is something they want to keep away from the kids. That’s not the case for the Archuleta family. It gives him the opportunity to bring his family to work and be present for everything. Not to mention, they know what daddy does for a living.
“I don't keep them in the dark of about what I do,” he says as his son is behind him wrestling with Archuleta’s training partner, former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw. “They have to understand why I do what they do and now they embrace it. They want to eat like I do when I’m cutting weight or hit the pads with me at the gym. I want to teach them that it’s okay to fight for what you believe in and what you love."
And what Archuleta believes in more than anything else is his family. Even with the loss of his uncle, he's inspired to carry on his legacy as he makes the walk to the cage in Los Angeles.
"My uncle was proud to see me doing what I love and as a family that fights for what we believe in, nothing can stop me."