Ricky Bandejas was a sizable underdog going into his last fight against highly touted Irish grappler James Gallagher but it took him less than three minutes to change that narrative.
A head kick followed by a blitz of punches brought the hype surrounding Gallagher to a crashing halt while Bandejas immediately became a contender in Bellator MMA.
This weekend, Bandejas will make his first appearance inside the cage since that fight when he faces Juan Archuleta at Bellator 214. He knows what happened against Gallagher was no fluke but the only way to back that up is by having another strong showing in his next fight on Saturday night.
“It’s huge, especially against a guy like Archuleta,” Bandejas said about not being a one-hit wonder when speaking to MMAWeekly. “He’s one of the best in the world. His main training partner is TJ Dillashaw so you get a win over him, it just cements that we’re one of the top guys.”
While Gallagher had a lot of attention surrounding him — partially thanks to his trash talk and affiliation with UFC superstar Conor McGregor — Bandejas says that he’s nowhere near the same level of fighter that he’s facing in Archuleta.
“Absolutely I think he’s way tougher than Gallagher,” Bandejas said. “Gallagher, if you look up his record, a lot of guys were just hand fed to him. He’s just a ground guy. Archuleta can go everywhere. He’s got knockouts, submissions, he’s fought a lot of experienced fighters.”
As much as he respects what Archleta brings to the fight with a 20-1 record with his only loss coming nearly four years ago, Bandejas is still confident that he’ll get the job done.
“He’s a great fighter. He comes forward. He has great cardio. He’s got good hands and he’s got real good wrestling. He’s good everywhere,” Bandejas said about Archuleta. “I think I’m just better everywhere by a little bit.
“I think I’m better on the feet, I think I’m better on the ground and he has great cardio but I think mine is just a little bit better, too. I think I’ve got him across the board.”
Nothing has been promised as far as what comes next with a win but Bandejas is definitely looking at the fight as a No. 1 contender’s bout in the bantamweight division.
Current champion Darrion Caldwell had seemingly eliminated the majority of his competition before traveling to Japan on New Year’s Eve and falling to RIZIN champion Kyoji Horiguchi.
While it’s possible Bellator schedules a rematch between Caldwell and Horiguchi next, Bandejas doesn’t see how the organization could ignore his legitimacy as title contender with a win over Archuleta.
“It’s definitely got to be,” Bandejas said. “If it’s not, I’d hate to be the guy we’d have to fight next. We are two of the best guys in the division and [Darrion] Caldwell pretty much already beat all the other top guys. It’s a no brainer to be a title fight.”
As much as Bandejas wants to challenge for the title, he also acknowledges that Bellator may decide to move forward with that rematch instead.
If that happens, Bandejas wants Bellator to know that he’s in the fight business, not the waiting around business and he’s not going to sit on the sidelines for anybody.
“Winning the belt would be awesome but my goal is to stay active,” Bandejas said. “Get three or four fights in this year and just make money. A title fight would be great, but if I’ve got to wait for it, I’m not interested. I’d rather get two fights in for eight months rather than sit around and wait for Caldwell.”