Alexandre Pantoja is ready to make a statement in his first title defense.
In July, Pantoja won the UFC flyweight title after taking a split decision win over Brandon Moreno at UFC 290. Given the competitive nature of the fight and the fact that Moreno is so welled like, fans wondered if the UFC would set up an immediate rematch, despite the fact that Pantoja is now 3-0 over Moreno. Ultimately that didn’t happen, and instead Pantoja will defend his title against another former foe, Brandon Royval on Dec. 16 at UFC 296.
Pantoja believes this was the correct decision.
“Royval definitely deserves to fight for the belt,” Pantoja said on The MMA Hour. “It’s a guy coming off a few big wins. He knocked out Matheus Nicolau, a phenomenal fighter from Brazil. He finished Matt Schnell, and he [beat Rogerio Bontarin]. He deserves it. He’s fought with everybody in the top 10, he deserves to fight for the belt, and it’s a very good match in a very different moment for me.
“When I fought Brandon Royval for the first time, that time I was driving [for] Uber, I had an injury in my knee, and that fight had a lot of emotion. I think at one point, all the emotion was very heavy, but I could use that. My mind that fight was 200 percent, very strong. Now it’s very different moment. He wants something that I have and I need to take care. Brandon Royval is very, very real dude. He’s a guy I need to be prepared for. I’m going to make a lot of money for that fight and I’m going to deserve all the [pay-per-view] points because I’m going to put on a very good show for everybody watching.”
Pantoja and Royval faced off two years ago at UFC Vegas 34, where Pantoja scored a second-round submission finish and a Performance of the Night bonus. After that fight, Pantoja submitted Alex Perez to earn his title shot and then defeated Moreno to claim the belt, securing two more bonuses along the way.
Royval has had similar success since their first encounter, scoring three consecutive wins and two Performance bonuses of his own.
Now set to collide again, Pantoja believes that given their current trajectories, this rematch should be pure fireworks.
“Fight of the Night, for sure,” Pantoja said. “It’s going to be a crazy fight again. Brandon Royval is a tremendous fighter. I love his style, very aggressive, very good jiu-jitsu. Like me, except he’s tall and a southpaw. Very impressive fighter. I love watching his fights and 100 percent this can be Fight of the Night. And he proved [he deserved the opportunity]. When that fight was over, I said to him, ‘You’re young. You have a lot to do.’ And now he’s going to fight with me one more time for the belt, and like I said, he deserves that.”
It’s clear heading into UFC 296’s rematch that Pantoja has a lot of respect for Royval, but come December, that respect has to be put on hold. And as he prepares for fight night, the newly crowned champion admits that while he intends to do everything he can to keep his title, there is a part of this whole thing that now seems strange.
“It’s very weird when you fight with somebody and at some point, you cross [out] the dream for somebody,” Pantoja said. “He dreams of that, I dream of that. I’m dreaming to defend my belt, he’s dreaming to take my belt, and I need to interfere with that. It’s very hard to do. This is a crazy sport, because all the good guys fight for their family, for everything, for your goals, for your dreams, and you need to go there and kill. That’s very weird. But I want to prove to the world who I am, how good I can be.
“That’s the only thing I try to do, is my best, and Dec. 16, I’m prepared for the best show of my life.”
Pantoja defends his flyweight title against Royval in the co-main event of UFC 296 in Las Vegas.