UFC Chile Winner Claudio Puelles: “I Want to Make My Name”
UFC Chile marked the UFC’s first trip to Latin America just over a week ago. The card featured six finishes, but perhaps none was as impressive as Claudio Puelles‘. The twenty-two year old Peruvian pulled off a Comeback of the Year contender with a late, third-round kneebar victory. Puelles chatted with MMA Today about the fight, his hypothetical dream fight, his future, and more.
Claudio “El Niñ0” Puelles (8-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC) was not on his way to winning against Felipe Silva. The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America Season 3 finalist had been largely outstruck on the feet for the better part of three rounds. Puelles acknowledges the difficulty he faced. “It was a hard fight, you all saw that,” he says. “At that moment in the fight, I was having a tough round.”
With a -54 significant strike deficit, Claudio Puelles has pulled off the greatest statistical comeback in UFC lightweight history. #UFCChile
— Michael Carroll (@MJCflipdascript) May 19, 2018
The moment Puelles is referring to, of course, came late in the final round. “I got dropped with a right hand. When he dropped me in the third round, I made him feel like he was going to pound me out, and I went for the leglock again. This time, I finished it.”
It’s a good thing Puelles got the finish, because he and his coaches knew they needed one. “My coach told me, ‘you have to finish, either on the standup or on the ground. We have to finish this fight.'”
But despite the desperate circumstances in the fight, Puelles never lost confidence. “I never thought, ‘oh, maybe I lost the fight. Maybe I’m done.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to get the finish, or at least work the whole round for it. I’m not giving up.'”
Initially, Puelles was willing to go for the emphatic knockout. Humorously, he details why he went to the mats. “At the beginning I wanted to work on the stand up, but then I got dropped, and I was like, ‘oh sh*t.’ I had him trying to finish me, so I went for a kneebar. I always go for the kneebar; I love it. I actually hit that before, on the Ultimate Fighter in my second fight. I did that same exact kneebar.”
DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK!
— UFC (@ufc) May 19, 2018
While the win was obviously momentous, it was additionally significant for Puelles in a variety of ways. One of those reasons was where the win took place. “Of course [it was nice to get the win so close to home]. I like the idea of fighting everywhere in the world, but I knew the first UFC card in Chile was going to be a big one.” With that said, Puelles isn’t limiting his horizons.
“I know I have way more supporters here than in, maybe, Europe, but, I want to make my name in the whole world, not only here.”
Another reason for the win’s importance was just how tough it had been for Puelles to make it back to the Octagon. “I’ve had a tough last eighteen months. I had two injuries; I had surgery. I went broke. I went to California, and I had to come back because I couldn’t pay my rent anymore. I wasn’t working anymore or training because of the injuries.”
In fact, financial troubles would have made it impossible for Puelles to get by, if not for some help from several entities. “I was lucky the UFC paid for my surgery. I went back to Peru, to my mom’s house. I have a lot of sponsors here, so I got my rehab for free. Now everything is getting back into place. I’m getting a lot of support from friends and people who support me. I was in a tough spot, but with hard work and dedication, I’m starting to do better.”
But now, after the fight, Puelles’ future is looking bright. Of course, he does have to deal with a minor obstacle. “I have an injury on my face. I have a fracture. I don’t remember the name of the bone. It’s not the jaw; it’s like a small bone. I have two months with no contact. I can start training in two weeks, but I cannot get hit in my face for two months. I hope I can fight at the end of the year, maybe November or December.”
As for who he’d like to face upon his return, Puelles is ready for anything.
“I don’t feel like I’m in the position to choose fights. I’ll fight anyone; I don’t care. I’m not saying I’m ready for top five guys, but I’ll fight anyone. Whoever they put me against, I’m going to accept.”
Whoever his opponent ends up being, they’ll have to prepare for a multi-dimensional threat. Puelles is the owner of five submissions and two knockouts. “I’m a natural finisher. I always finish fights, not only on the smaller, regional fighters. It’s natural. TKO, submission, knockout, I just get it. It just happens in the fight.”
For his latest finish, the UFC Chile kneebar, Puelles took home the $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. As for what the twenty-two year old fighter is planning on using the money for, he reveals that he’s wise beyond his years. “I don’t know. I just want to take it slowly. I had almost nothing – no money – for the last year. I was broke, and now I have a bunch of money, so I just want to take it slowly. I’ll buy some things that I always wanted as a kid, and pay off some things. I have some things to pay, but I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Some of that money, no doubt, will go towards paying for Puelles’ training camp. In addition to his original coach, Puelles added two new gyms to his latest camp. “I was doing my MMA camp with Ivan Iberico my whole career. He was actually a coach on the Ultimate Fighter that I was in. We trained here, in Peru. I also implemented two new things for this camp. My new jiu-jitsu coach, Tano Fernandez, and my new boxing coach, Ulises Calderon, and we’ve been training for a couple of months now. It was a different camp, but I enjoyed it a lot.”
New trainers weren’t the only change in Puelles’ preparation. “It was my first UFC camp down in Peru. It was very cool. You know how fighters say that they get more concentrated or more focused if they do a camp somewhere else that’s not home? Everybody down here says that. I actually feel the other way. When I go away from home, I’m thinking about going back all the time. So when I’m home, here with my family and everything, I get more comfortable.”
The theme of being comfortable at home is recurrent in Puelles’ life. “My family helps me a lot if I need something, so that works better for me. My mom helps me a lot and she supports me. So making my dream and seeing her so happy for me accomplishing my own dreams is something that really drives me.”
Like many fighters, Puelles has competed at multiple weight classes. Early in his career, the Peruvian fought at featherweight, at one-hundred and forty-five pounds. “I started fighting at that weight, but I was younger. I was 15 when I had my first fight at that weight. I gained a lot of weight, a lot of muscle mass. It was natural, like a teenager thing. So, when I was 17, 18, I was already way heavier than the weight cut, and I was like, ‘oh, I’m cutting too much weight.'”
That concern came to a head early in his career, when he missed weight for the first time. “I missed weight for a fight, and I was like, ‘no, I think I’m done with this weight cut.’ It was too much of a cut, and it was affecting my performance. I missed weight, so I went up to 155. I think I’m staying. I feel good. I feel better. I actually think I can make 145, but I’d rather get better working on my skills than working on my weight cut. I feel like that’s the smartest thing for your career.”
Given that Puelles’ career began at fifteen, he’s always been very keen on his development. “When I was starting to develop my game, I wanted to have a complete game. I feel like I am developing a complete game, but it’s not on the level I want it. It’s getting better every time.”
In order to improve, he looks to some of the best fighters in the world for inspiration. “I try and emulate things from a couple of guys, like different parts of their games. I don’t think there is a perfect fighter. I think it’s impossible to be one. But, I take little things from everyone, from the best fighters, and I see what works best for me.”
As for who he looks to, Puelles’ enthusiastically lists names. “I like Dustin Poirier’s boxing, I like Demian [Maia’s] jiu jitsu, I like Jon Jones’ wrestling and takedown game, Frankie Edgar’s cardio and heart.” But, even though he admires a great deal of fighters, this is, after all, a sport of competition.
When asked about his ideal, dream fight scenario, Puelles hesitates as he thinks about the perfect opponent to test himself against. “Maybe a prime BJ Penn. Or a prime Georges St. Pierre. I’ve actually looked at a lot of Georges St. Pierre before. He was the best complete fighter. Back in 2012, nobody could beat him. I would’ve loved that fight.”
Puelles’ desire to test himself dates back to his earliest days of training. “I hadn’t even started training, but I remember I said, ‘I’m going to be a UFC fighter.’ Now, a couple of years later, actually getting my first win there is a big thing for me. It’s a big dream I’ve always had.”
Now that he’s crossed getting a UFC win off of his list of goals, there are two ultimate ambitions that drive the prolific finisher, the first of which is championship gold. “I’d love to be champion. It’d be awesome.” Puelles is patient, however, and realizes that goal will take time. “But it’s a long way from here to there. I’m just going to focus on my next fight.”
The final ambition of Puelles’ is very near to his heart. “I also want to be the fighter they remember the most from Peru. I want the next generation to get inspired by me. I would love that, to [have them] remember me as a warrior and a fighter.”
The man who wants to be remembered as a warrior took another step in that direction last week with a legendary, come-from-behind finish. Claudio Puelles may be only twenty-two, but the Peruvian demonstrates a high level of maturity both inside and outside of the cage. When Puelles heals from his injuries and books his next fight, his ascent towards the top is sure to continue. For fight fans around the world, his journey is certainly one to watch.
You can follow Claudio on the following social media platforms:
Facebook: Claudio “El Niño” Puelles