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Claudio Puelles of Peru poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
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Claudio Puelles Moves All-In

Talented Lightweight Opens Up About Focus, Dedication In Advance Of Return To Mexico City

In November 2022, Claudio Puelles ventured to New York City, carrying a five-fight winning streak into his UFC 281 clash with Dan Hooker at Madison Square Garden.

Brimming with confidence, he strode into the Octagon convinced that the veteran from New Zealand was nothing more than another low hurdle he would easily clear as he continued his march forward in the lightweight division.

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“The most important lesson for me is not to take things for granted,” Puelles said on Wednesday as he readied to make his return to action on Saturday night in Mexico City, where he takes on Fares Ziam. “I thought I was gonna beat this guy so easy. I was like, ‘This guy is nothing!’

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“I really thought like that before, but he is good; he’s a good fighter,” continued the Peruvian fighter, who fell to Hooker in the second round. “It’s not that he’s levels ahead of me or anything like that, but he has all this experience — he’s been in terrible situations, we’ve seen him struggle a lot, and that makes him be a lot tougher. That’s something that I hadn’t had — I had some tough moments, but not as much as him, and not with the level of competition he’s been with in the Octagon.

"That was my mistake; I messed it up in there, and he took advantage of it very well,” he added. “From that fight on, I knew there were some things I had to get better at, and I’ve been doing that, putting work into those areas.”

Claudio Puelles of Peru works for a submission against Clay Guida in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Claudio Puelles of Peru works for a submission against Clay Guida in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

While he wasn’t ready to divulge the specifics of what he’s been focused on over these past months, the candid 27-year-old did acknowledge that the loss, coupled with another extended stay on the sidelines, gave him plenty of time to think about where he stands in his career and what he wants for himself going forward.

And it prompted him to admit some difficult truths about the effort he’s put forth in the past, and what needed to change as he begins this next chapter of his UFC career on Saturday night.

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“I’ve had a lot of down time and have made up my mind on some of the things that I want to do from here on,” began Puelles, who made his promotional debut in Mexico City in November 2016 and carries a 13-3 overall record into his clash with Ziam. "I started thinking, ‘I’m not 21, 22 anymore.’ It’s not ‘in 10 years, I’m only going to be 31, 32.’ Now, in 10 years I’m gonna be 37, 38, and when I say 37, 38, I visualize the end of my career; maybe I’m already done.

“I’ve been fighting since I was 15. At 38, I probably already want to be done with the sport, and that tells me, ‘Okay, you’ve got to really put the effort in’ because I don’t want to look back and think, ‘I could have done more.’

“Honestly, this is gonna be my eighth year in the UFC, and I feel out of the eight, I’ve only put 100 percent in three years out of the eight,” he admitted. “The other five, I have been either after a surgery or I haven’t been training or there was the pandemic.

“Most of my time in the UFC, I haven’t been training 100 percent, so I want to make that time up with the next seven or eight years — giving 100 percent in training; training year-round, not only when I have a fight.”

Claudio Puelles of Peru reacts after his submission victory over Clay Guida in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX
Claudio Puelles of Peru reacts after his submission victory over Clay Guida in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

After spending the first part of 2023 on the sidelines dealing with some health issues, Puelles began practicing what he was preaching to himself in the back half of the year.

As talk of a fight card in Mexico City started to surface, the former Ultimate Fighter: Latin America finalist recognized a return to the site of his UFC debut would make a great location for his next trip into the Octagon, and he hit the gym in preparation for Saturday’s event before the date was locked in and his participation on the card was confirmed.

RELATED: UFC's Last Time In Mexico | Second Chances Aplenty At UFC Mexico City

Following a couple months of work at Kill Cliff FC, Puelles moved from Deerfield Beach to Puebla, Mexico, setting up shop with UFC featherweight rising star Diego Lopes at his Brazilian Warriors gym.

Claudio Puelles Fight Week Interview | UFC Mexico City
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Claudio Puelles Fight Week Interview | UFC Mexico City
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“It was a decision based on the altitude, not that I wanted to shift camps,” he said, clarifying his allegiances and the timeline of his training. “I did great work at Kill Cliff FC before coming — it’s been my gym for the past three years — but the altitude calls for it. You’ve got to come early, you’ve got to make the most of that time, get acclimated to the altitude.

“I knew Diego from before. I talked to my manager, asking him the best place to do camp, and he said, ‘Talk to Diego; you already know him.’ He has a gym close to Mexico City, I talked to him, and he gave me a great welcome.

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“Brandon Moreno was there doing his camp, as well, and it turned out being not planned, but a great camp,” continued Puelles, who has garnered three of his five UFC victories by kneebar, including each of his last two wins. “We had a great time — it was tough, but we pushed each other; it’s been a great decision.”

And his intention is to continue that push when he steps into the Octagon this weekend.

Claudio Puelles of Peru kicks Chris Gruetzemacher in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX
Claudio Puelles of Peru kicks Chris Gruetzemacher in their lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 04, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“You’re gonna see the good version of Claudio Puelles — me giving my all,” he said, kicking off another moment of candor. “That’s the only thing I was mad about in my last fight: not that I lost, but that I couldn’t showcase my skills. I wasn’t at peace with myself because I knew I didn’t fight the way I know, I didn’t give my all.

“If I lose a fight and I know I gave my all, know I had a war in there — of course I don’t like losing, but I’m gonna be at peace with myself because I really tried.”

He paused, sitting with his admission before spinning it forward to Saturday and the rest of his career.

“I know that I’m very good at this game, and I know that if I do give my all, 90 percent of the time or more, I’m gonna be winning,” he added. “As long as I give my everything, you’re gonna see my hand raised.”

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UFC Fight Night: Moreno vs Royval 2 took place live from Arena CDMX in Mexico City, Mexico on February 24, 2024. See the Prelims / Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!