Brandon Royval is coming for a reckoning at UFC 296.
This Saturday, Royval challenges Alexandre Pantoja for the flyweight title in the co-main event of UFC 296 in Las Vegas. The bout is a rematch of his Royval’s most recent loss, when Pantoja submitted him back in 2021, and though it’s also Royval’s first shot at UFC gold, “Raw Dawg” is treating this more like a shot at redemption than at a title.
“It’s super surreal,” Royval told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “And it’s like, I don’t ever really even believe I’m gonna fight half the time until I’m looking at my opponent. That being said, like in this situation, fighting for the ball just doesn’t even seem like it’s a thing really. Honestly, I’m getting ready to fight Alexandre Pantoja. I don’t know, man, it’s cool.
“Like sometimes I like when I listen to your show, I hear all these people and they’re like, ‘Oh I was gonna, I knew I was gonna be champ!’ I’m like, I was happy to be here, bro! [Laughs] I’m just happy to be here half the time. So it’s like, fighting Alexandre Pantoja, to me it’s an opportunity to get revenge. That’s my main goal and f*** the belt, to a degree. But at the same time, it’s just hard for me to accept any of that stuff too, you know? So it’s been a wild journey. I’m just so happy that I get a chance to just show my life’s work finally and fight for that belt.”
Since losing to Pantoja at UFC Vegas 34, Royval has been on a tear. “Raw Dawg” has won three straight, including back-to-back first-round finishes of Matt Schnell and Matheus Nicolau. That, and his exciting style (Royval has three Fight of the Nights and one Performance of the Night in just seven UFC bouts), put him in position to fight for the title, and looking back on it, the 31-year-old believes he knows exactly where he messed up in the first fight.
“Patience, man,” Royval said. “I feel like you gotta enjoy the journey. You gotta enjoy the journey of like fighting. I was so desperate to get out of the cage when I was younger and not even younger, two years ago even. I have fights that are 20 seconds and that’s awesome, but I’ve also been punched unnecessary times because I’m taking unnecessary risks.
“I watch fights, I break down fights all the time. I’ve watched Alexandre Pantoja fight a million times and then I go in and fight like an asshole, and it’s like, why? I’ve done all the homework, I’ve done all the studying, I know how to fight properly.
“It’s like, what makes me exciting also puts me in danger. In a shootout, I was almost always sure that I was gonna be the one to leave on top in a shootout with anybody, just because I have such a danger factor of being really good at submissions and a knockout threat. But Alexandre Pantoja showed me in a shootout, he’s super dangerous too.
“It’s one of those with Alexandre Pantoja, when that second round came and I almost was counting my chicks before they hatch. Like, ‘Oh this fight’s over.’ I looked across the ring from him and I was like, ‘It’s all but over.’ Even 30-40 seconds into the fight, me and him are going and I’m like, ‘Oh he’s done, there’s no way he can last.’ And I just kept watching it slip by me and slip by me and I overthrew a punch and then I got my back taken and I just watched the whole fight kind of slip away slowly and it was just, it was all created off unnecessary risk. I didn’t need to do any of that.”
Like Royval, Pantoja has also been on quite the run lately. After submitting Royval, Pantoja then submitted Alex Perez in just 91 second to earn a title shot, which he converted in July, taking a split decision over Brandon Moreno to claim the belt. Royval is Pantoja’s first title defense and “Raw Dawg” hopes to get one back in the best way possible.
“I don’t know if this is a prediction, but this is what I want,” Royval said. “I wanna drop him and I wanna submit him. I wanna get absolute revenge. I want a submission victory.”
And once that happens? What comes next for the new champion should he win the title on Saturday.
“I just hope — I guess if any fighters are listening to this, they’ll know — you sacrificed so much to be here, I’ve done so much crazy s***, I’ve worked so many different jobs, odd jobs, not sleeping, so many people I cut out of my life because I never had time for them, and so many relationships gone by the way. I just hope at the end of the day and when I get that belt wrapped around me that I find what I’m looking for, that I didn’t waste my time, you know?
“I hope whatever whatever hole I have that I’m trying to fulfill that I find it that day. And it’s like such a dumb thing because, you know, it’s not gonna happen. But I don’t know. I feel like I’m forever gonna be chasing a pot of gold and nothing will ever be good enough, but this is definitely something cool…
“I’ve always been chasing something, you know, and then once this next goal is here then it’s like, what then? When you finally reach the pinnacle of MMA, you win a UFC belt, then it’s like, damn, how crazy. Like, I don’t know, I just hope it’s all worth it and I guess is what I was trying to say.”
UFC 296 takes place this Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.