Alexandre Pantoja: Muhammad Mokaev ‘makes total sense’ for UFC 301 title fight with ‘good win’ at UFC Vegas 87

Alexandre Pantoja wants to defend his UFC flyweight belt in Rio de Janeiro on May 4, and he doesn’t really care who’s standing across the octagon at UFC 301.

The Rio de Janeiro native flew to Mexico to watch Brandon Royval defeat Brandon Moreno in the main event of UFC Mexico City this past weekend and wonders if Royval, victorious via split decision, will be healthy enough to compete in early May after a 25-minute battle.

Pantoja, who defeated Royval twice already, looks at the division — and even outside the organization — to seek for challengers for his belt. Pantoja is 9-0 against fighters currently ranked in the top seven of the UFC flyweight division, including exhibition bouts on The Ultimate Fighter. For that reason, Pantoja believes undefeated phenom Muhammad Mokaev could earn a shot at the belt with a victory over Alex Perez at Saturday’s UFC Vegas 87 event.

“There’s enough time, even though he cuts a lot of weight,” Pantoja said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast. “I know that because he trained here at American Top Team before and he’s really big for the division. I think it makes total sense if he wins. Moreno had the ball on his court [and lost], and now Mokaev has it. Let’s see what happens.”

Mokaev can clinch his sixth straight UFC victory on Saturday, the greatest start for a flyweight in the history of the organization. He can also improve to 11-0 in the sport, with a 35-fight unbeaten streak between amateur and professional MMA bouts combined. The latter could help sell the narrative for a title fight in Brazil.

“He’s a very talented kid,” Pantoja said of Mokaev. “He’s very talented and likes to learn, but he follows a different line of thought that I do. He was raised in London, so he’s not a legitimate Russian, but he has that culture behind him.”

“Brandon Royval is lengthier and likes to play jiu-jitsu,” he continued, “and Mokaev is more solid, likes that heavy grappling, a style I’m implementing to my game and it works really well. It’s very hard to do, it requires a lot of conditioning and strength, and I’m showing I’m capable of doing it. But I also think that Mokaev has more holes in his striking than Royval, who knows how to use the distance — or Moreno and his boxing. I think it would be more of a grappling match, and I’m super comfortable doing that.”

Pantoja said he scored the UFC Mexico City main event 49-46 in favor of Royval and that “Moreno didn’t fight.” Pantoja wonders if Moreno felt the pressure of falling short once again in front of his countrymen.

But the champ ultimately expects a hard fight if he has to meet Royval a third time at UFC 301, and isn’t overlooking Royval because of his previous success against him.

“Royval is a very difficult fighter, maybe more than Moreno,” Pantoja said. “In my opinion, Brandon Moreno is not on his prime anymore. Maybe he needs to change a few things. To me, as a fighter, it’s clear that all the attention has gotten to him, which is why I try to stay focused. … I made it look easy [against Royval], and he goes to Mexico and beats Moreno, so I think people are giving me more credit now that I’ve fought both.”

Mokaev and Royval are the top choices for his next title defense, Pantoja said, but he joked that he’s willing to go “full Apollo Creed” and give the shot to anyone else in the world, even an “unknown fighter” from any organization, just to be part of UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro. Another option could be re-signing Kyoji Horiguchi, but the RIZIN flyweight champion happens to train with Pantoja on a daily basis at ATT.

Manel Kape, who was working his way up towards a chance for gold, failed to make weight recently and had a rematch cancelled versus Matheus Nicolau earlier this year. Kape lost a decision when he met Pantoja in 2021.

“Manel Kape is super tough,” Pantoja said. “I would compare Manel Kape to Francis Ngannou. He’s super tough and fights for the same things I do. He is, to me, one of the toughest fights in the division, but he doesn’t make weight. He’s too big.”

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