Alexandre Pantoja reveals he ‘almost blacked out’ during UFC 296 title defense

Alexandre Pantoja defended the UFC flyweight championship with a unanimous decision victory over Brandon Royval at UFC 296, but the performance came with a scare.

Looking in from the outside, it appeared as if Pantoja gassed out a little in the championship rounds but still managed to threaten his challenger with a rear-naked choke in the fourth frame. Pantoja, however, revealed on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that he almost passed out during that submission attempt.

“I almost blacked out trying to put him out,” Pantoja said. “Coming back from the third to fourth round, [coach Marcos] ‘Parrumpinha’ came to me and said, ‘We lost that round.’ I’m like, ‘What? No way we lost it, master’. ‘Parrumpinha’ is the best coach in the world today, in my opinion, and he said that to give me sense of urgency because we’re fighting an American in the United States and he knows everything counts. He gives me this sense of urgency, we need the next round to solidify.”

Pantoja said he stood off the stool before the one-minute break ended, laser-focused on giving his best in the next round, and that’s when things went south for him.

“I started with everything and when I took his back, I started to feel ill,” Pantoja said. “I was aware that I was going out, man. That’s never happen in my life before. I’m still processing what happened. But I started to see the world spinning, brother, like if I was drunk, you lay on bed and everything starts to spin. I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m going out here.’ I’m on his back and no way I could allow him to get out of there because I’d be in real trouble.”

Pantoja was able to work on a neck crank despite the scare and try to choke out Royval, who showed incredible guts to escape the finishing moved used by Pantoja to tap him out the first time they met inside the octagon in 2021.

“It’s like a movie going on inside your head, ‘It’s time, I’ll catch him,’” Pantoja said. “I use all the energy I have, man. It was on. It wasn’t under the chin, it was more of a neck crank, but that still hurts. Hats off to Brandon Royval, he was willing to go the extra mile in the fight. He escaped [the choke], I still have his back for a while, but he doesn’t stop for a minute and reverses position and ends on top. I had no energy to get back up so I kind of give him the position and stay under. I go for a leg lock to threaten him a bit and stop his attacks.”

Pantoja went back to the stool before the fifth round and informed American Top Team coaches “Parrumpinha” and Luciano “Macarrão” of the situation.

“I’m very careful with what I say on the stool because everybody’s listening,” Pantoja said. “I was a bit upset that it didn’t air on the broadcast. I told my coaches — I have to give them feedback, they have to know what’s going on with me — that I’m dizzy, I’m very dizzy. It’s funny because my striking coach ‘Macarrão’ said, ‘Get up, Pantoja, get up,’ and hugs me, and starts jumping with me in the octagon. I wish I had that footage. I’m like, ‘Let me go, ‘Macarrão’! What are you doing? He’ll see that I’m not OK.’ [Laughs.] It was a funny situation.”

The Brazilian flyweight said it took a moment for him to recover in the fifth round, but was healthy enough to still go on for five more minutes and win the decision. Pantoja said he has rewatched the bout four times, scoring it 50-45 in his favor, and now hopes to defend his title in Brazilian soil in 2024, likely against the winner of Brandon Moreno vs. Amir Albazi.

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