Pantoja beat Brandon Moreno to claim the UFC flyweight belt in July and will turn around to defend it against Brandon Royal at UFC 296 on Dec. 16. He explained in an interview with MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast why he doesn’t foresee such a long reign.
“I’ll never try to compare myself to him,” Pantoja said of Johnson. “I really want to build my name so my name is in the spotlight, but I think it’s past my time to really want to be like him. I’m a very down-to-earth person. I believe I can do five well-done camps to defend [the title]. I’m a 33-year-old guy, but I’ve been fighting everybody since I was 17, you know?
“I’ve been through a lot of teams. Not only in fighting, but we beat each other up quite a lot in the gym. My first master, Helbert Reis from Arraial do Cabo, used to take me to seminars in every gym in the Regiao dos Lagos area, so I was trading blows with a lot of people, people way bigger than me. I’m tired, right, brother? I really want to enjoy this moment. This is my moment to show my art.”
Pantoja (26-5) won four straight fights in a span of 17 months, improving to 10-3 under the UFC banner since competing on The Ultimate Fighter 24 in 2016. Pantoja had the chance to earn a shot at Johnson’s title on the reality show, but lost to a decision to Hiromasa Ougikubo just days after defeating Moreno and Kai Kara-France.
“Mighty Mouse” reigned in the flyweight division between 2012 and 2018, defending his UFC title 11 times in a row against the likes of Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez to break Anderson Silva’s record. Johnson left the UFC in 2019 to join ONE Championship, eventually winning the flyweight belt.
“I would love to fight this guy,” Pantoja said. “If not fight him, but to train with him down the line. It would be a huge privilege for me. He’s someone I respect a lot, someone that has opened doors for all of us. I think I’ll call him out after the fight. [Laughs.]”
“I don’t want to say I’ll get [to Johnson’s record] one day,” he continued. “My plan is really to defend this belt well like five times. If the world wants [it] and destiny favors us, he’ll come back to the UFC and we do this with [Johnson], which would be the best for me.”