Going into the Fall of 2017, it was expected that John Castaneda would be on the sidelines awaiting a call from the UFC. Instead, the winningest fighter in Combate Americas returns for their biggest event to date. I caught up with Castaneda to discuss the UFC, Combate, and more.
First off, a lot of people thought that you would probably be expecting a call from the UFC after your win on the Tuesday Night Contender Series this summer. Were you or your management given any indication that the UFC might be calling?
“I have really great management. Those guys have a lot of connections, a lot of ins at the UFC. They have a roster full of guys in the UFC so I knew it was just a matter of time. I fought on August 1st for the Contender Series. Usually it’s like a 30 day negotiation period to get that contract. But literally right after my fight, Combate was really on me. They were offering me different deals, different style of contracts and I think we really worked out something that works in my favor for right now. Combate just jumped the gun way quicker than the UFC. They really jumped at the opportunity, gave me a really good contract with really good pay, a fight every 90 days in one of the clauses, so I’m really happy with the contract that Combate Americas offered.”
You have the most wins out of any fighter in Combate Americas history. What’s it like for you as one of the best fighters to now be part of an event like Copa Combate?
“It’s another notch in the belt. Obviously this is another historic thing that Combate Americas is doing that I’m a part of. The first one probably being that New York card. We beat pretty much every other major promotion to New York when MMA was legalized again. We beat the UFC, we beat Bellator and all those promotions and I was part of that card. That was a very historic moment. I’m part of this card, another historic moment. I guess it’s just not surprising you know. Like you said, I’ve been with the company from the get-go, from the very first fight that they had in downtown Las Vegas. It’s just crazy to see how much this company has grown in just a short amount of time. A little bit over two years and they go from fighting in a parking lot in Downtown Las Vegas, being on Fight Pass, signing with Telemundo, fighting in New York, now we’re going international and fighting in Cancun Mexico. There’s talks about fights in Barcelona early next year. It’s really cool seeing this company grow as opposed to joining a company like the UFC that’s already established. That’s the unique part about it: them growing as I grow myself.”
The Copa Combate is going to be a one night tournament with hybrid rules for most of the rounds. What do you think is the biggest challenge for an event like this?
“There’s eight different fighters and the possibility of having to compete in three different fights on the same night is definitely a thing. Even if you just make the finals, it means you would have fought three different fights. I think the toughest thing to adapt to is the three different styles. In doing my research on the other guys, they all have different styles. Some are gritty, hard-nosed boxers. Some are really good jiu-jitsu practitioners. Other guys are really well-rounded guys. Obviously when you have a camp in mixed martial arts, you have that 8-12 weeks to train specifically for one guy. One of the hardest things is to train for all sorts of styles. But I don’t think it’s really too difficult. As mixed martial artists we have to train in all styles every day, every week, so that really doesn’t make a difference. I think what it’s going to come down to is just experience and how adaptable you are.”
Personally, I figured one of the biggest challenges would be how much energy you expend if you’re in a close fight but you know you’ll still be fighting again shortly afterward. Do you anticipate that being an issue for you?
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“I don’t really think so. Every fighter is going to have a different answer for that question. For me, when I’ve been in tough fights, fifteen minutes later I’m good to go in the sense that my energy levels are back-up. Now, I may have some bruises, some short term injuries, but nothing that’s going to prevent me from getting back in there in fifteen minutes. Then again, the opportunity has never presented himself. I’ve obviously never had a fight and had to fight again fifteen minutes later. I’m trying to reminisce on my previous fight experience and right away after my fights I’m exhausted, I’m tired. I’ve just had an adrenaline dump and my energy is low. But if you give me 20 minutes, I’m back to normal basically.”
(John Castaneda competing on the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series in August. Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Last year, you missed weight against Gustavo Lopez in what was supposed to be a fight for the inaugural bantamweight championship for Combate Americas. Would winning this tournament be redemption for that incident since you would have become champion that night?
“In a sense, yes. If you put it that way. I wasn’t thinking about it like that. I think every single fight after that one is redemption. I’ve had six fights with Combate total, I’ve had sixteen professional fights. I’ve only missed weight once and that was the fight with Gustavo. I don’t know what it was. My body just dried up and I couldn’t make the weight. I got within a pound and a half and yeah, I robbed Combate Americas of that first bantamweight title basically. They were supposed to crown the champion that night and they didn’t. I don’t see it as redemption. I see this event as another task at hand. These guys are in the way of my goals. My goal isn’t just to be Combate Americas champion, my goal is to be one of the best guys in the world.”
Do you have an order of opponents you’d like to face in the tournament or have you not invested much thought in that because of the unpredictability of the draw?
“I have done my research and there are two guys I feel are at a higher level than the rest of them. I’m kind of implementing my training and my camp around those guys and their styles. The rest of the fights are just going to fall into place. Like I said earlier, you train for all aspects of mixed martial arts regardless of who you’re training for. But, ideally, I would like my route to stray away from those two guys and meet them in the quarters or semifinals. As a promoter, I figure Ricky Palacios is on my side because I’m representing the US and he’s representing the state of Texas. I can’t imagine Combate having the possibility or setting the brackets so it would be the US versus Texas in the finals.”
Finally, what can the fans who tune in expect from you?
“You guys can expect some high level fighting from me. I’ll push the pace and go for finishes. I’m looking to win this tournament with three finishes in three fights. We’re going for those bonuses and I’m ready to be a champion.”