A Bellator star was born Saturday night. And another walked off into the sunset.
Juan Archuleta, who has toiled mostly under the radar during a run of success that extends back half a decade, scored his highest-profile victory in the main event of Bellator 246, defeating previously unbeaten Patchy Mix by unanimous decision to earn the vacant bantamweight championship.
In the co-main event inside Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, where no fans were in attendance, 42-year-old welterweight Jon Fitch was submitted by Neiman Gracie and announced his retirement.
Archuleta (25-2) has won 19 of his past 20 bouts; his only loss during the run was a decision loss to two-division champion Patricio Freire a year ago. Freire, known as "Pitbull," was defending his featherweight belt that night in the first round of the Bellator World Grand Prix tournament.
But now Archuleta finally wears a belt. Two judges scored Saturday's bout 48-47 and the other had it 49-46.
"Oh, my God," Archuleta told Bellator's John McCarthy in his postfight interview inside the cage. "My family, John, they deserve this. My teammates, they deserve this, man. My country, Spain, where my ancestors come from, the fighting Spaniards, the conquistadors, they deserve this. They have fighting spirit. It shows in me."
Archuleta, 32 and fighting out of Hesperia, California, had a rough first round and a half as Mix, who had finishes in each of his first three Bellator fights, repeatedly seized dominant grappling positions, threatening finishes.
But Archuleta persevered. He took control in Round 3 with body shots complemented by slick footwork. That kept him at long range, where Mix could no longer make the fight a grappling contest. For the rest of the fight, Archuleta was consistently first in launching strikes, and his incessant movement left Mix (13-1), a 27-year-old fighting out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, often swinging at air.
In Round 5, Archuleta sealed the deal, slowing Mix with a relentless attack of body punches. That secured for Archuleta a Bellator bantamweight title that had been vacant since Kyoji Horiguchi surrendered the championship last November while recovering from an injury.
In the co-main event, Gracie got back on track by handing Fitch just the second submission loss of his 43-fight professional MMA career. Gracie finished the fight at 4:47 of Round 2 with a creative leg lock, a combination of a kneebar and inverted heel hook.
Then Fitch removed his gloves and placed them at the center of the cage, the traditional gesture of a fighter who is retiring.
"I've got a lot of things I'm looking forward to outside the cage," said Fitch (32-9-2, 1 NC). "It's time to go."
Fitch had a career that places him among the sport's 170-pound elite. He made an unsuccessful challenge of then-UFC champion Georges St-Pierre in 2008, and in 2016 he won the Professional Fighters League title.
"He's one of the best welterweights of all time," Gracie said. "People maybe don't like his style, but he beat everybody."
Gracie (11-1) had previously fought in June 2019, when he suffered his first career defeat, a decision loss to then-champion Rory MacDonald. But he got the better of Fitch, who had been on a career resurgence, coming in unbeaten in his past six bouts.
Earlier on the card, Liz Carmouche made her Bellator debut, submitting flyweight DeAnna Bennett in the third round. It was a close fight, with each woman winning one of the first two rounds. Then Carmouche came out for the decisive final session and aggressively took the fight to the canvas, where she locked in a rear-naked choke to draw the tapout at 3:17.
It was Carmouche's first submission victory since 2012.
Carmouche (14-7) owns a piece of MMA history, having fought in the first UFC women's bout, putting Ronda Rousey in early trouble before being submitted in their 2013 bantamweight fight. Carmouche's most recent fight before Saturday was also a UFC title bout; she lost a decision to women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko in August 2019.
Bennett (10-9-1), who has lost three in a row, had missed the flyweight limit by 5.7 pounds on Friday, making this a catchweight bout.
Saturday's event completed a busy weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena, which also hosted Bellator 245 on Friday night, with the arena empty of fans both nights.