Combate Americas: After “Fun” Tournament, John Castañeda Ready For Normalcy

Being a favorite in any type of tournament isn’t as easy it seems.

Sure, the competitor who is favored is supposed to be better.  That’s the whole point of a favorite– isn’t it?  However, “being better” comes with higher expectations, higher pressure, and higher standards.  Critics begin to forget you’re human, and make it seem like anything less than first place is last place.

John Castañeda (16-3) found this out at Combate Americas 18 this past November.  Combate Americas hosted a eight man, one night tournament featuring eight of their finest bantamweights.  The 26-year-old Minnesotan was by far the odds on favorite to win.  After two grueling bouts, Castañeda earned the opportunity to compete in the tournament finale as expected.

His opposition, Levy Saúl Marroquín was originally an alternate in the tournament.  Following a lucky turn of events, Marroquín entered the tournament, winning both of his respective bouts.  At the end of the night, it was Marroquín defeating Castañeda to win a prize of $100,000.

Despite losing the tournament, Castañeda believes a lot of good came out of his experience at Combate Americas 18.  “It was incredible– the most fun I’ve ever had in an MMA fight,” says Castañeda.  “I got to fight three different guys three different opponents, three different styles– all in an hour and a half.  It was pretty nuts.”

When reflecting, Castañeda feels the tournament setting was not an accurate representation of what would occur in normal bouts.  “It was super hard to simulate that type of tournament in practice,” explains Castañeda.  “If anyone knows me, they know I’m a very slow starter.  That’s the setting in which I drive in a normal three round fight.”

“The first [bout] was a one rounder, so I had to switch that up.  I had to go from a slow starter to a very fast starter.  That kind of threw me off a little bit.  That led into my second fight where I felt really tired after the second round.  Obviously and clearly in the third fight, where I’m normally not tired– that’s when I was the most tired.  It’s just something that you can’t simulate.”

In the future, Castañeda hopes to be able to rematch the man who handed him his first loss in over three years.  “Me and Levy had a great fight in the final, and hopefully I get to see him again,” says Castañeda.  “That was a close fight and it was a three round war. Before this tournament, I was on a ten fight win streak.  I would love to get that one back.”

On that night in November, Castañeda fought for almost 30 minutes of in-cage time.  That gave Castañeda a lot to reflect upon to improve for the future.  Castañeda even made a trip down to Arizona to train at the world-famous MMA LAB.  His long time friend and training partner, Dan Moret, had already made the venture down to the gym.  Castañeda figured he’d head south and see what all the fuss was about.

Getting the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best fighters went a long way with Castañeda.

“The biggest thing that I took from it was that it booster my confidence,” describes Castañeda.  “Training with these guys who are right around my weight class and doing well against them– competing with them and giving them good rounds, it really made me realize.  These guys are top ten in the world and I’m doing very well against them.  That’s the ultimate thing in this game: if you lack confidence you’re going to lack performance in anything.

This Friday night, Castañeda will return to take on José Alday (10-3-1) in the main event of Combate Estrellas 1.  Originally, “Sexy Mexi” was scheduled to rematch his second round tournament foe, Marc Gomez.  However, per a report from Fansided, a detached retina forced Gomez out of the bout earlier this week.

In a recent interview, Castañeda told Fansided‘s Amy Kaplan he was much more confident in facing off against his new opponent.  “I’ve watched two of his last three fights and he’s good all around, but he’s not spectacular at anything,” Castañeda told Kaplan.

Friday’s bout will mark Castañeda’s first of the year.  While he still has the goal of getting to the UFC someday, he believes it’ll be at least 2019 before that happens.

“I recently just signed a four fight contract with [Combate Americas],” explains Castañeda.  “I have three fights left with them.  This whole year will basically be with Combate Americas now.  After that, we’ll reflect on where we’re at.  Hopefully, we’ll be on a three fight winnings streak from there.”

“I’d like to thank my coaches and my training partners at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy; all of the coaches and training partners over at the MMA Lab in Phoenix, Arizona; my management company– who is absolutely stellar and makes everything happen, Iridium Sports with Jason House and all of those guys.”- John Castañeda

To learn more about John, you can follow him on social media:

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Nolan King is a MMA Today senior columnist, writer and renowned MMA insider. Nolan's other freelance work can also be found on FloCombat, Tapology, and MMA Brasil.