Juan Archuleta is living the dream.
Once a friendly working relationship between Bellator and RIZIN Fighting Federation began in the late 2010s, “The Spaniard” knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. With his talent-rich 135-pound weight class on display in one of the biggest crossovers, it felt like only a matter of time for Archuleta (28-4) to get his turn.
Archuleta, 35, made his RIZIN debut this past Dec. 2022 at RIZIN 40, earning a split decision win over South Korea’s Soo Chul Kim in a hard-fought effort. The culture was immediately embraced by Archuleta and it embraced him back. The former Bellator Bantamweight champion extended his stay to enjoy the sights with his family before eventually picking up a second win over top contender, Naoki Inoue, at RIZIN 42 earlier this month (May 6, 2023) via a unanimous decision.
“I couldn’t ask for a better position than I’m in now,” Archuleta told MMA Mania on BROADENED HORIZIN. “Especially after losing the title fight in Hawaii, going into Japan, it gives me the extra motivation to keep going forward. After you lose a title fight it is draining on you. Then I got this opportunity, now I’m super stoked.
“How many fighters have you seen basically rented out for the year to another promotion?” he added. “Yeah, they’ve done fights here and there, but to actually say like — I’m still signed with Bellator but I’m fighting for RIZIN. I’ve made history in this type of deal that they’ve done. I’m the first fighter that’s ever done this. I’m excited to do my part and go and win the title then going back to Bellator.”
The same night that Archuleta scored his win over Inoue, former RIZIN champion, Kai Asakura, pulled off a highlight-reel flying knee knockout over Yuki Motoya in the main event. Now, the pair are set to face off for the vacant title at Super RIZIN 2 on July 30, 2023.
Archuleta and Asakura’s recent successes continued to prove that the Bantamweight division is on another level in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA). Back in Archuleta’s home of Bellator, the division’s Grand Prix tournament recently wrapped up, crowning his old opponent, Patchy Mix, as the new interim champion. Mix will await the winner of the upcoming tilt between the returning undisputed titleholder, Sergio Pettis, and Featherweight kingpin, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire. Ideally for Archuleta, by the time everything is sorted out, he’ll be the RIZIN champion ready to re-insert himself into those thrilling champion vs. champion discussions.
“I think it’s too early for me to know [how being RIZIN champion would be],” Archuleta said. “I have to finish these fights out and I haven’t even got the title yet. When we start crossing these bridges and being successful then I can talk about what’s next but for now, I don’t know what’s gonna happen.
“When I make this title run for RIZIN, hopefully, come back to Bellator and unify the belts and be something like [Kyoji] Horiguchi did, being able to keep going forward,” he continued. “It’s been done before but the way I’m doing it is a lot different because I’m taking all the No. 1 contenders out of RIZIN then I’ll have to go back and take out No. 1 contenders in Bellator. I’m excited to unify this but first things first and that’s the fight with Asakura. I’m so stoked.”
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