Bellator 246: Juan Archuleta grateful for another title shot

Any title fight is a welcome fight. To lose and get another shot, in another weight class and less than a year later, amid a pandemic?

Juan Archuleta knows a blessing when he sees one.

Nearly 12 months after his featherweight championship hopes were derailed, Archuleta sees gold within his reach again when he takes on undefeated Patchy Mix for the vacant bantamweight title at Bellator 246 on Saturday in Uncasville, Connecticut.

“I’m 100 percent grateful that Bellator believes in me and was able to give me this other opportunity,” Archuleta (24-2) said in a phone interview Wednesday.

This one is definitely different. Unlike his one-sided unanimous-decision loss to 145-pound champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire at Bellator 228 at The Forum, this bout is at 135 pounds.

And this time, he will have longtime training partner and former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw in his corner, along with UFC featherweight veteran Cub Swanson and coaches Duane Ludwig and Joe Stevenson.

A clerical oversight at Bellator 228 caught the Placentia-based Treigning Lab team flat-footed when, according to Archuleta, Dillashaw was taken aside by the California State Athletic Commission 45 minutes before the title fight and told he couldn’t corner his friend because of his two-year suspension for blood doping.

Juan Archuleta, right, works with T.J. Dillashaw during the Bellator 228 open workouts at the Viacom CBS Hollywood Headquarters in Hollywood on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Archuleta, who assumed it wasn’t an issue since Dillashaw was suspended and had cornered him in New York and accompanied him all week to Bellator 228 events and the weigh-ins, admits it was his fault for not listing Dillashaw’s suspension on his paperwork.

He believes the sudden disruption was a factor in his underwhelming and uneven performance against Freire.

“I was flustered. I was fighting with the commission right before my fight,” said the 32-year-old Hesperia native, who now lives in Orange County to be closer to his training partners. “That just came out of the blue. My mind state wasn’t in the fight. It was about this damn commission. I was blaming other people instead of taking a look at myself and staying calm, cool and collected.

“I had a good training camp, but my mind was like scrambled eggs.”

Juan Archuleta, left, trades with featherweight champion Patricio Freire during Bellator 228 at the Forum on Sept. 28, 2019. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Archuleta took the loss – his first in more than four years after winning 18 consecutive fights – in stride. He saw how Freire adjusted and negated his speed and durability, so he implemented a similar tact in his next fight against heavy-handed Henry Corrales at Bellator 238 in January at The Forum.

Instead of engaging in a firefight, the former Purdue wrestler kept the fight close and looked to take Corrales down – his strength against Corrales’ weakness.

“I grew from (the Freire) fight, it let me adapt to my fight and realize Henry Corrales has a chin,” Archuleta said. “I’ve seen a multiple number of my teammates rock him and he comes back and puts them away. This fight needs to be won a different way. It can’t be a barbaric fight. It’s a fight I needed to get momentum back.”

Juan Archuleta, right, defeated Henry Corrales by unanimous decision at Bellator 238 at The Forum on Jan. 25, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The unanimous-decision victory wasn’t a crowd-pleaser as a smattering of boos followed Archuleta’s persistent attack. That won’t matter Saturday night as the card will be held without anyone in attendance at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Without the potential to be swayed by the crowd’s disapproval, Archuleta says he will be able to stick to his game plan and slow the fight down against Mix (13-0), an elite jiu-jitsu practitioner whose mat skills don’t concern Archuleta.

The former college wrestler says he is more than prepared after drilling at Huntington Beach Ultimate Training Center with Dillashaw, Swanson and top UFC featherweight Brian Ortega, who is considered one of the best jiu-jitsu competitors in MMA.

“I believe he has great jiu-jitsu, but he doesn’t have great MMA jiu-jitsu,” Archuleta said of his opponent. “I’m fighting with guys like T.J., Cub, Brian Ortega every day, who have great MMA jiu-jitsu. I’m not nervous about it. It is what it is.”

“I’m sure he worked on a lot of his weaknesses, but I believe I’m gonna be just much better that night with him because I train with world-class fighters every day of my life.”

Bellator 246

Main event: Juan Archuleta vs. Patchy Mix for the vacant bantamweight title

When: Saturday

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut

How to watch: Prelims (5:45 p.m. YouTube); main card (live 7 p.m. DAZN; delayed 10 p.m. Paramount)

Juan Archuleta, left, and Patchy Mix will fight for the vacant bantamweight title, held by Bellator CEO Scott Coker, on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of Bellator MMA)