The Bellator Bantamweight World Grand Prix will have to begin without the division's champion. Sergio Pettis was forced to withdraw from the field due to injury. Along with the announcement of Pettis' withdrawal came news that Juan Archuleta would step in Pettis' planned first-round bout with Raufeon Stots at Bellator 279 on April 23. The fight between Archuleta and Stots will be contested for the interim title at 135 pounds.
Pettis, whose injury was not disclosed, is coming off the biggest win of his career, retaining his championship at Bellator 272 in December with a dramatic comeback knockout of former champion Kyoji Horiguchi. He is a perfect 4-0 in the Bellator cage including a win over Archuleta at Bellator 258 to capture the belt. In Bellator's Grand Prix tournaments, the champion defends his title in every round, leading the tournament winner to leave with both the championship and a $1 million prize.
Archuleta was already one of the eight men in the official field, though his first-round opponent had yet to be determined. Bellator 279 will be his first fight since losing the championship to Pettis. He won the then-vacant belt at Bellator 246 with a win over Patchy Mix.
"I'm very honored, obviously, and excited and grateful for the opportunity," Archuleta told CBS Sports HQ on Tuesday morning. "There's more to being a champion than just having the belt, right? When I won the Bellator world title I always knew how to carry myself as a champion. This is just to show that I'm always ready and always in the gym training. When you're always prepared, you can get the opportunity of a lifetime. I'm ready to get my belt back.
"...Thankfully, for me, I've been training since I lost my title. Nothing changes for me. Since I lost my title, I've been getting strong and getting ready. Stots is just in the way of me getting my title and getting that million dollar check I deserve for myself. This is just the first step to a million dollars. Not only that, I get to fight for my world title. One man's loss is another man's gain."
Stots is 5-0 in Bellator, including participating in one of Bellator's best fights of 2021, an impressive decision win over Magomed Magomedov. With Pettis withdrawing from the bout, Stots loses an opportunity to fight for the 135-pound championship but can still make a big statement against a former champ while also attempting to collect an interim belt.
Cris Cyborg's women's featherweight title defense against Arlene Blencowe will now serve as the headliner from Neal S. Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu. Also on the card is another first-round battle in the 135-pound tournament as Kyoji Horiguchi battles Patchy Mix.
There is not yet word of who will step in to fill Pettis' spot in the tournament, though Josh Hill was officially made the tournament alternate after a brutal knockout of Jared Scoggins in December.