Bellator 228 will feature a local fighter in a dog fight for a title, two marquee mixed martial artists who helped shape the sport pitted against one another and a near 50-year-old former veteran returning from retirement to fight on the same card as his son.
The proceedings will take place Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood and will be headlined by Juan Archuleta (23-1), from Hesperia, challenging active two-division champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire (29-4) for his featherweight title.
Archuleta is a graduate of the local fight scene, was a standout collegiate wrestler at Purdue University and is riding an 18-fight winning streak, five of which have come in Bellator.
“Going into this fight, it means a lot more to me to dethrone the man. He’s had a great career. The strategy is to make him quit,” said Archuleta. “I’m ready for this, and it’s in my hometown.”
The fiery Freire will enter the cage for the 22nd time for the Viacom-owned company and is coming off a lightweight championship win over Michael Chandler in May.
“I am the greatest of all time. I am the champ-champ. That’s why they want to face me,” said Freire.
The card will be co-headlined with a middleweight bout between longtime fan favorites in Brazlian Lyoto Machida (26-8) and Armenian Gegard Mousasi (45-7-2).
The two combatants have met once before. Mousasi, who has won championships in Bellator, Strikeforce and Dream, will look to avenge his 2014 decision defeat to Machida, who tallied a record of 16-8 in UFC fighting the biggest names in the sport before signing with Bellator two fights ago. Machida is riding a four-fight winning streak, and at 41 years old, is still competing at peak levels.
“When I win this fight, I will have my title shot,” said Machida.
“The hunger is there and the will is there. That’s all I need — and technique. I fought Machida the wrong way last time, and I’ve learned from it,” said Mousasi.
Perhaps the feel-good moment of the night, however, will be when former MMA fighter Antonio McKee (29-6-2) will return from a five-year hiatus at the tender age of 49 and compete on the same card as his son A.J. McKee (14-0), a top fighter in the 145-pound division.
They will each corner each other at their respective fights with hopes of making history.
“It’s phenomenal and means a lot. [My dad is going to] set the tone for me. It puts a stamp and finish to his career, after being undefeated for eight years. We want to do things that can’t be done,” said A.J. “It’s going to be scary.”
Since retiring in 2014, Antonio has been training fighters like his son and former Chargers player turned MMA fighter Chris McCain at the BodyShop Fitness in Lakewood.
“There is no pressure,” Antonio said. “I’m scared that this is too easy.”
This will be the second time a father-son duo has ever competed in the same event for a major MMA promotion. During Bellator 209 last year, Haim Gozali and his son Aviv Gozali fought on the same night. Haim lost, but the Antonio McKee-trained Aviv prevailed.
The Long Beach-based father and son duo in the McKees hope to complete the clean sweep come Saturday.