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Interview: Copa Combate competitor talks $100k one-night tournament

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John “Sexy Mexi” Castaneda spoke with Bloody Elbow about competing in the rare one-night eight-man tournament known as Copa Combate on November 11, 2017.

Rising 14-2 bantamweight John Castaneda is looking to extend his winning streak from nine straight to twelve straight in just one night. How is this possible you might ask? Well, “Sexy Mexi” is headed to Cancun, Mexico on November 11 to take part in Combate Americas’ one-night eight-man tournament known as Copa Combate, where the winner must get past three opponents in order to receive the $100,000 grand prize.

Castaneda sports a perfect 6-0 record under the Combate banner, but was most recently spotted picking up a unanimous decision win over Cheyden Leialoha on Dana White’s Contenders Series. Before heading south of the border for Combate’s rare one-night tourney, Castaneda caught up with Bloody Elbow to discuss competing on the DWCS show, signing a new contract with Combate Americas, and his take on having to fight three times in one night at Copa Combate.

How to watch Copa Combate:

NBCSN and Telemundo will air the tournament semifinal matchups as well as the tournament finals, with the quarter finals and alternate bouts airing live on the Telemundo Deportes En Vivo app and Coverage on NBCSN will be live streamed on and the NBC Sports app.

  • A brief falling out with Combate Americas:

“That kind of put me in a tricky spot with my contract situation. I won the fight, but I wasn’t crowned a champion because I didn’t make the weight. That was the last fight of my contract. If I would have been crowned a champion or got the belt or anything like that, it would have actually automatically extended my contract by three more fights. So, at the time, I saw it as very good opportunity to renegotiate. That was five wins in a row for me, four of those five wins were finishes. So I felt like it was a good time to kind of just take a step back, see what my options were, and renegotiate. A big part of that was also them wanting me to rematch Gustavo Lopez immediately. At the time, I thought that that was doing my career, really no good... Long story short, we ended up cutting ties. I got cut from the roster, just to only be brought back seven months later.”

  • Returning to Combate with an emphatic TKO of UFC veteran Chris Beal:

“It felt awesome. I thought it was going to be a lot more nerve racking, but to be honest, it felt like I was right at home. My last five fights before that were for Combate Americas, so I think it was the seven month layoff that kind of was getting to me mentally. I don’t think it showed in the cage whatsoever, but mentally, I was like, ‘man, is my timing going to be off? Is my range going to be off? What’s going to be different?’ I’m so used to being active. I’m so used to having three or four fights every year. So, that’s a fight every three months; seven months is a long time to have without a fight. I was definitely playing with my head a little bit.”

  • The last time we saw you in action was in a unanimous decision win over Cheyden Leialoha on Dana White’s Contenders Series. How was the overall experience being on the show?

“The overall experience was great. That was definitely the most nerve racking fight I’ve ever been in. Fighting in front of a pioneer of the sport in Dana White, basically the face of MMA and the UFC, the biggest promotion in the world. It was definitely a little nerve racking. Leading up to that fight, four weeks out from that fight, I was dealing with some injuries. It was healing up, and then two weeks out, I actually re-injured the same thing. So mentally I just wasn’t prepared for that, mentally and physically I wasn’t really prepared for that fight as much as I normally am. I feel like I got very tired, very gassed, in a way which I don’t ever normally do. I think that had a lot to do with how the fight itself played out, but none the less, I’m always battling through adversity, battling through these obstacles, and I find a way to win.”

  • Earning a five-fight contract with Combate Americas:

“After the Contenders Series fights, there’s a 30 day negotiation period with your management team and the UFC, basically. That’s like trying to negotiate any contract. In that 30 days, we got calls from Campbell and the team from Combate Americas, and they offered us a really great contract for five fights, and a lot of really good things in there that I liked in the sense of keeping me very active. I definitely made the right choice.”

  • If you win the Copa Combate tournament, will that count as three of the five fights on your contract?

“The tournament is excluded from them. So, the five-fight contract actually starts right after November 11, the tournament. I don’t know if I should say this or not, I don’t think I’ll get in trouble, but I have a clause in my contract which I’ll be fighting every 90 days. So, that’s super active.”

  • What are your thoughts on competing in a rare one-night eight-man tournament?

“It’s a special night, you know? This is old school MMA. This is like the first days of the UFC. Those eight-man tournaments, something that Campbell, I’m sure, is very excited about too, as he is a co-founder of the UFC, and was a part of that first eight-man tournament. I’m sure it’s super cool for him. It’s a historic event.”

  • Are you down with the rule set, or would you change anything?

“I would change some things, honestly. Like I said, I’m having a really good camp. I like to be well known for a late bloomer, so I think that this tournament is only going to be beneficial to me. I might start out slow, but when the finals come around, I’m going to be super warmed up, super loose, and ready to win this tournament. If I were to have it any way, I’d have it three five minute rounds every single fight, so I’d have 15 minutes per fight. That would be 45 minutes of fighting in one night, which is probably a little unsafe, but I like to think that I’m in better shape than all of these guys, and I think that I would love to take advantage of that.”

  • Are you still training with Greg Nelson up in Minnesota?

"Yes sir! I’m training out of Minnesota Martial Arts Academy under Greg Nelson.”

  • He’s a bad dude!

“Yeah, tell me about it. That’s an MMA legend. He’s 52 years old and beats my butt for sure. I can’t wait until I’m 52 and hopefully doing the same thing to other guys.”

  • Would you say you’re favored to win the tournament?

“I’ve heard it a couple times. I heard that I’m the favorite to win. I can see myself winning this. I can see myself being in the finals with Marcelo Rojo, honestly. He’s a tough dude. I think that I’ve done my homework on most of these guys, and most of them are really, really tough. Obviously, everyone has a good record. Everyone here is a top talent from their respective country, but I definitely see myself winning this tournament.”

  • You have to win three fights to win the tournament and collect the $100,000; let me get three predictions:

“Three finishes, man. The first round, I know for a fact that a lot of these guys are going to look to secure a takedown and finish on top. It’s a 1 round fight. I can’t imagine that these guys are having a gameplan to stand and bang with someone for five minutes, and throw it up in the air who’s going to win. I know guys are going to be looking for takedowns the first round; I’m looking for a submission first round. I’m looking for a quick finish in the second, and I’m looking for an all out war in the third.”