Growth can sometimes be painful, and that’s certainly been the case for UFC lightweight Claudio Puelles.
Not long ago, the Peruvian fighter was carrying plenty of hype, with many in MMA keeping tabs on his rise through what historically has been one of the toughest divisions in the sport. That all came to a halt, however, when Puelles (12-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) was stopped by long-time veteran Dan Hooker at UFC 281 in November 2022.
Puelles, at the time 26, saw his five-fight winning streak snapped by the man he had called out. It was a tough loss to process, but one that Puelles said sparked positive change.
“I think that I entered the octagon that night with a wrong idea, and things didn’t go the way I thought they would,” Puelles told MMA Junkie in Spanish when reflect on the loss to Hooker. “Things did come close to going the way I wanted, but in the end they didn’t.
“When you enter the octagon you have to be ready to die, that’s the truth. It might sound harsh or dramatic, but it’s the truth. You need to be ready to go in there and die if necessary. That night, I had an idea to make the fight very clean, and that’s not how it turned out.
“However, things have now changed, time has gone by, and now my mentality is much different. I’m ready to step in that octagon, ready to die if necessary. For me, there’s no other option. If the fight needs to be away over three rounds, then it’s going to be three hard rounds. If the fight ends in one round, then it ends in one round.”
Puelles returns to the octagon on Feb. 24 at UFC Fight Night 237 at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City (ESPN+), and he takes on Fares Ziam in a 155-pound bout.
It’s been more than a year since Puelles stepped in the octagon. He admits it was challenging to put the Hooker loss behind him given the opportunity he had. However, Puelles has finally moved on, he said, and is eager to apply the things he’s learned against Ziam.
“Yeah, at first it was painful,” Puelles said when asked about how he dealt with the loss to Hooker. “It was painful because I wanted to win and get in the top 10 and all that, but then that went away. I returned to work and my life and continued to do everything.
“I’m a better fighter today because of it. Many people expected a certain type of performance from me, but I still came out more of a fighter than when I stepped in the cage that day because I learned a lot and I picked up experience. This is part of it. I turned the page quickly, and I’ve been improving and working on the things I needed this the last year or so.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 237.