Alexandre Pantoja dreams of fight against flyweight ‘GOAT’ Demetrious Johnson

Alexandre Pantoja became the first UFC flyweight champion since Demetrious Johnson to successfully defend his belt twice when he defeated Steve Erceg at UFC 301, a feat he accomplished just 10 months into his title reign.

Now Pantoja dreams of being the man to finally welcome Johnson back into the UFC.

“He’s the GOAT. How can I not say that?” Pantoja said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I think right now, I think [with] two title defenses, I can speak a little bit about that [fight], because I have huge respect for Demetrious Johnson. I can’t try to compare myself with him. And I think right now I can say something, I have more [credentials] to put on the table [than before], and I think that’s a dream for me. I don’t like to say I have dreams, because I want to live everything I have in my life. I think to live is better [than] to dream, you know? But if I’m dreaming of something, it’s a fight with Demetrious Johnson.

“If he doesn’t [want the] fight, maybe I go to the gym and train with him or [have] a hard sparring [session with him]? I don’t know. But I have so much respect for him.”

Pantoja, 34, has won six straight UFC bouts, including a trio of championship victories to propel himself into elite company within the division’s history. Pantoja captured the belt by besting Brandon Moreno, then defended it against Brandon Royval and Erceg. His résumé also includes wins over ranked foes Manel Kape, Alex Perez, and Matt Schnell.

Johnson, 37, is the current ONE Championship flyweight titleholder and is widely considered to be the greatest 125-pound fighter to ever compete. From 2012-17, “Mighty Mouse” defended his UFC title 11 consecutive times, breaking the record previously held by UFC Hall of Famer Anderson Silva. Johnson exited the UFC in 2018 following a controversial loss to Henry Cejudo, but still competes for ONE Championship. He scored back-to-back wins over Pantoja’s teammate at American Top Team, Adriano Moraes, in 2022 and 2023.

With Johnson inching close to retirement and still under contract with ONE Championship, the fight with Pantoja will likely never happen. But the Brazilian is confident in his chances.

“Demetrious Johnson, I think he can’t do it, what he did before, you know?” Pantoja said. “Because the new names in the division, and MMA is so different year after year, so different, the game has changed, everything — I don’t know if he can do the same thing.

“It’s like if you question if Anderson Silva wants to fight Vitor Belfort again — he’s doesn’t want to fight because he can’t get that kick again. Or Conor McGregor with Jose Aldo, he can’t repeat that [result]. I think Demetrious Johnson can’t do that again, and that’s why I think he [wouldn’t] come back. But it [would be] a pleasure, a dream for me, a fight with him. I don’t know about contracts, that’s not [for] me [to say]. But of course [I’d want it].”

Johnson was actually somewhat critical of Pantoja in the aftermath of UFC 301. He said he didn’t leave the bout thinking Pantoja was a “better fighter” than Erceg, and said of the UFC champ, “if you take him away from his grappling, you can take advantage of him.”

The two share a bit of history as well, as Pantoja entered the UFC on The Ultimate Fighter 24, a season designed around finding a challenger for Johnson’s title. Pantoja was the season’s No. 1 seed but was ultimately upset in the semifinals by Hiromasa Ogikubo.

Regardless of whether Pantoja’s dream fight ever comes true, though, life is good for the current UFC flyweight champ. With his third fight in the past 10 months behind him, Pantoja looks forward to taking a well-deserved break while rest of the division sorts itself out.

“I have a very exciting division right now,” Pantoja said. “I think Erceg’s a big name right now, everybody respects him now. And you have [Muhammad] Mokaev, you have Amir Albazi, Moreno, Royval, Manel Kape. Alex Perez just knocked out Matheus Nicolau. That’s so nice. I feel like the flyweights [are having] a better moment right now.

“It’s time [for me] to watch everyone in the division. Everybody [has been] watching the champion defend his belt twice in less than a year. Now’s my time to watch everyone fight. Let’s put, I don’t know, Royval and Erceg [together], Amir Albazi to Mokaev. You have very good matchups to watch. And I deserve that time.”

Source link

You May Also Like