The Bellator featherweight title and a spot in the quarterfinals of the 145-pound grand prix is on the line when Patricio Freire meets Juan Archuleta at Saturday night’s Bellator 228 event in Inglewood, Calif.
“Pitbull” claims he actually handpicked Archuleta as his first opponent. The two-division champ said Bellator’s original plan was to match him up against Henry Corrales, but he wasn’t interested in starting the tournament against someone he’s already defeated (Corrales tapped to a guillotine at Bellator 153 in 2016).
“I wanted someone who was coming off good wins,” Freire told MMA Fighting. “They asked me who, and I said, (Archuleta), and they accepted my request. It was my request, actually.”
“The challenger who deserved it more was A.J. McKee,” he continued. “But (Bellator) didn’t want to do it, because it would be like an early final – it didn’t make sense for them to do it right away. Archuleta hasn’t lost in the promotion yet, and he’s coming off 18 wins. Corrales (deserved it), but we removed him since it’s a rematch.”
Archuleta, a former King of the Cage featherweight champion and teammate of ex-UFC bantamweight king T.J. Dillashaw, is 5-0 under the Bellator banner with wins over former 135-pound champion Eduardo Dantas, Ricky Bandejas and Robbie Peralta.
“He’s very dynamic (and) has a weird timing,” Freire said of his upcoming opponent. “He forces his opponents to enter his zone, gets closer to the fence and switches stances, baiting his opponent, and then throws his overhand. He does that really well, but he’s a poor man’s version of T.J. Dillashaw. (Henry) Cejudo beat the original Dillashaw with my tips, with my style, and I’ll beat up this cheap imitation.”
“Pitbull” isn’t acting like Archuleta is completely in over his head, however.
“Everything he does is very calculated,” Freire said. “He’s surprising. He knocked out guys we weren’t expecting him to. I know he’s dangerous, but we’re ready for this.”
Adam Borics, Derek Campos, Pedro Carvalho, and Emmanuel Sanchez already have earned spots in the quarterfinals with wins at Bellator 226. Following Saturday night’s event, the eight featherweights will enter the cage and draw a number that will determine the order in which the fighters pick their opponents.