Ricky Bandejas has risen through Bellator’s bantamweight ranks fast and he owes at least a small debt of gratitude to James Gallagher.
It was at Bellator 204 last August that Bandejas was matched up with the 22-year-old Irishman whose association with Conor McGregor’s SBG team, willingness to talk up a storm, and unbeaten record had made him a polarizing figure just seven fights into his career. An interim titleholder with New Jersey’s Cage Fury Fighting Championships promotion, Bandejas wasn’t expected to be a pushover, but Gallagher still entered the bout as the favorite.
It took less than three minutes for Bandejas to turn that prediction on its head and hand Gallagher his first loss in brutal fashion.
With a sharp right hand, a straight kick to the jaw, and furious punches on the mat, Bandejas put Gallagher away and in the process made a name for himself off of the heavily promoted “Strabanimal”.
Bandejas, 27, has the chance to continue his roll this Saturday when he fights Juan Archuleta (21-1), who is dropping down from featherweight, on the main card of Bellator 214 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
Even Bandejas isn’t sure how he went from the regional scene to sharing billing with the likes of heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko and light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader in just over a year’s time. When asked how much praise he received for finishing the brash Gallagher, Bandejas says it was overwhelming and taught him that controversy creates cash.
“Hundreds, thousands of comments saying how happy they are this happened to him,” Bandejas recently told MMA Fighting. “It’s terrible, but at the same time it gives him attention and the promoters love attention, whether it’s good or bad, it doesn’t matter.”
Prior to Bellator 204, Bandejas speculated that a win over Gallagher could push him to the front of the bantamweight contenders’ line given that current champion Darrion Caldwell had fought most of the division already. Bandejas also figured that Gallagher was close to a title shot and he could essentially take his spot if he beat him.
Caldwell ended up taking a fight over in Japan with Kyoji Horiguchi instead of booking another title defense. Bandejas isn’t disappointed that he didn’t get to challenge Caldwell, only that Bellator wasn’t able to find him another fight before the end of the year. Still, he sees himself in good standing with the matchmakers heading into his first fight of 2019.
“I think they believe that I’m serious competition,” Bandejas said. “I think with the Gallagher fight they wanted me to lose or they expected me to lose, but since that fight I think they understand that we mean business and I think that this is a big fight, Archuleta.”
A standout high school wrestler, Bandejas passed on leaving home to go to college when a gym owned by former UFC fighter Nick Catone sprung up around a minute from where Bandejas lived in Brick, N.J. The rest was history and Bandejas went on to win 11 of his first 12 pro bouts.
Bandejas’s career is still in its early stages and he repeatedly mentions crossing items off of his “MMA bucket list”, including wanting to follow in Caldwell’s footsteps and represent Bellator in Japan someday. Especially if he gets to do so with gold around his waist.
“Win the title. Do a couple of cross-promotion fights. Maybe go up to ‘45 win a title,” Bandejas said of his bucket list. “Some big ones.”
“You never like to look into the future, but if everything works out the way you think, Archuleta’s a win and I get the belt, I would love to go up to ‘45 and fight for the belt,” he continued. “Especially a guy like Archuleta fought at ‘45 and Gallagher fought at ‘45, so that just shows that I think I could get up there too and hang with them guys.”