Alexandre Pantoja is set to defend the UFC flyweight championship in the co-main event of UFC 296 on Dec. 16, the same night Colby Covington challenges Leon Edwards for the welterweight strap in Las Vegas, and the American Top Team product wants nothing to do with his former teammate.
Covington parted ways with ATT in 2020 after a series of public feuds with teammates Jorge Masvidal, Dustin Poirier and Joanna Jedrzejcyk. Pantoja said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that Covington, who now trains at MMA Masters, is still not welcome at the Florida-based gym.
“Everybody wants to kill him there,” Pantoja said. “I don’t care, brother. I walk my path. I know everything he says is pure marketing. I work with [ATT boxing coach] Gabriel de Oliveira and Gabriel is a person I respect a lot, and he says [Covington] has always respected him. To me, you earn points if you treat well someone I like.”
Pantoja, however, has no intention to be friendly or cordial towards Covington during UFC 296 fight week.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I was born in Copacabana and we are disgusting towards everybody [laughs]. There’s an artist right next to you and you don’t care. I respect him a lot as an athlete, but in a way I’m more connected to Leon Edwards because of his life story and everything he’s done. Leon Edwards is definitely someone I would go out of my way to shake hands and wish him a good fight, say I’m a big fan his work. Now, about that a******, I won’t say anything. Leave him alone [laughs].”
Covington has admitted public he changed his public persona prior to fighting Demian Maia in Brazil in fear of being cut from the UFC, and that persona has propelled him into more profitable opportunities inside and outside the octagon in the form of rivalries with some of the best UFC welterweights. Pantoja said it all comes with a price, though.
“I think he’s one of those person that let fame change his character,” Pantoja said. “The thing is you can’t character, but he let out all that stuff of talking badly about a country and whatnot and kept it going, and he’s lost a lot with that. It’s not a good idea to leave American Top Team. With all due respect to other teams, I’ve been part of a few, but American Top Team was the best fit for me. It’s such an incredible structure and so many great training partners.”
“[Covington] moved to a team where he thinks he’ll get all the attention, but I think MMA is not about that,” he continued. “Even though we’re fighting alone in there, there’s a great team behind us. [At ATT] you’re just another one training, but I think Colby couldn’t handle being just another one. He wanted all the attention but he wouldn’t get that here.
“American Top Team owner always tells [coach Marcos] Parrumpa that he likes my attitude in the gym because I’m always open to training with every training partner. I was just helping Kayla Harrison and the session was awesome, you know? I like helping everybody because I get so much help too. [Parrumpa] says Dan Lambert was very emotional when I won the belt because of that exact reason, because I dedicate to help my teammates as well. Colby can’t do that. He wants to be the main person all the time, and that wouldn’t be possible at American Top Team.”
Covington vs. Edwards could attract more eyeballs to UFC 296 at T-Mobile Arena, meaning more money to Pantoja’s pockets in the form of pay-pre-view points. The PPV portion of the show also features Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Stephen Thompson, Tony Ferguson vs. Paddy Pimblett, and Vicente Luque vs. Ian Machado Garry.
“That card is awesome,” Pantoja said. “I celebrate every name that gets in there. Paddy from England, so there’s the English audience he brings that will sell well. There’s also Leon Edwards, a champion from England. And Ferguson, too. I’m so pumped and happy with this opportunity. I think I’ve earned, my family and I deserve this. But it’s like I said, I’m very focused. I have a mission on December 16 so don’t invite me for anything until December 17 because I’m focused. The goal is to defend the title — and it’s on the same arena I won it, so I’m definitely coming back home with the belt.”