Under the Radar at Bellator 210: Juan Archuleta

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Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent who shows the potential for growth in their division and isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.

Name: Juan Archuleta

Record: 20-1 overall; 2-0 Bellator MMA

Division: Featherweight

Team: Treigning Lab

In terms of overall depth of talent, featherweight is arguably the best division in Bellator, boasting a tremendous mix of elite competitors, established names making up the middle tier and a host of up-and-coming fighters with championship aspirations working their way up the ranks.

Some of the best prospects in the entire company compete in the 145-pound weight class, including A.J. McKee, Adam Borics and Aaron Pico, who might be the best prospect in the entire sport, regardless of organization.

Another fighter to watch in the division is Juan Archuleta, who is too old (31) to really be considered a prospect, but is too good to simply be dismissed as another member of the middle class.

A two-division champion for King of the Cage, “The Spaniard” made his debut in the Bellator cage in March, earning a unanimous decision win over William Joplin that extended his winning streak to 14 straight. It was an expected result and a performance that wasn’t particularly instructive in terms of where Archuleta could fit in the loaded featherweight class, but his second appearance under the Bellator MMA banner was far more substantial.

Back in June, the Hesperia, California resident scored a third-round TKO win over Robbie “Problems” Peralta, a 27-fight veteran who went 4-4 with one no contest in the UFC and has faced a lot of tough competition over the years. It was the kind of matchup that gives one a better understanding of where the lesser known combatant stands and not only did Archuleta come away with another victory, but he brought the fight to a halt just 14 seconds into the third round, leaving no question who was the better man.

Friday night, he’s scheduled to return against Jeremy Spoon, a 33-year-old veteran with a 21-4 record that includes a 2-2 mark in four previous Bellator appearances and a host of fights with Midwest regional veterans.

Much like the fight with Peralta, this feels like another litmus test for Archuleta — a second straight pairing with a solid, but unspectacular veteran with the experience and savvy to get the best of things if he’s taken too lightly, but isn’t someone who should just roll into the cage and run through the relative newcomer.

Training alongside UFC bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw and several other established fighters at the Treigning Lab in Orange County, you know Archuleta is always going to be in shape and ready to push the pace. But now it’s about answering the lingering questions about his current run of success and overall potential in this powerhouse division.

Scanning his resume, there aren’t a lot of familiar names or big records listed amongst the fighters he’s beaten during his current winning streak. Outside of Peralta, the most recognizable opponents he has faced during that stretch are Chris Tickle, who was on TUF 15, and Alfred Khashakyan, best known for being the guy “Sugar” Sean O’Malley lit up on the Contender Series two summers ago.

But here’s the thing that I always get back to when looking at a fighter on a lengthy streak like this: if winning 15 straight fights was easy, how come there aren’t more people on 15-fight winning streaks?

Now, it’s certainly harder to do in the UFC than on the regional circuit, which is why guys such as Khabib Nurmagomedov, Max Holloway and Tony Ferguson deserve even more recognition and respect for what they’ve been able to accomplish. But you must have skills, tenacity and toughness to put together a winning streak of this length, regardless of who you’ve been fighting.

Adding Peralta to that run of success last time out provided a little more of an idea about where Archuleta fits within the divisional hierarchy and keeping things going this weekend against Spoon would help refine that positioning even further. From there, it’s all about who he fights next and whether or not Bellator wants to give him a chance to face one of the division’s young upstarts (though he and Pico train together, so that’s probably not happening) or get him in there with one of the more veteran names to see if he can hang with a former champion like Pat Curran or Daniel Straus.

Bellator has done a good job of bringing fighters with upside along in recent years and while Archuleta is a little older than the fighters the company usually slow plays, I can see him getting a similar extended run of matchups like this in order to really generate some traction and put him in a position to enter the championship fray.

It might not happen in the next eight or nine months, but by this time next year, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if “The Spaniard” were facing some of the top names in the division and being discussed as a possible title challenger.