Opening the main card is a flyweight bout, between #3 ranked Alexandre Pantoja and #6 ranked Brandon Royval, which could have title shot implications, especially given the two fighter’s histories with current champion Brandon Moreno, and previous champ, Deiveson Figueiredo
Pantoja has not one but two wins over Moreno. One dating back to TUF 26, where he defeated the current champ by RNC in the second round, and another two years later in 2018, where he won a one-sided decision over Moreno. He also served as a stepping stone for Figueiredo on his way to fight Joseph Benavidez for the vacant flyweight title after Henry Cejudo vacated to concentrate on the 135 division.
On the contrary, Royval has less experience in the UFC. With that being said, Royval was signed to the promotion after an impressive eight-fight run in LFA, where he went 6-2 before eventually being crowned the LFA Flyweight Champion in October 2019. After two impressive wins over Tim Elliott and Kai-Kara France, both of whom he finished by submission in 2020, it was looking like Royval was destined to run through the division. However, a loss to Moreno due to a shoulder injury and brutal ground and pound stopped Royval’s rapid ascension to the #1 contender.
Due to both of these men’s relationships with the current and previous champions, an impressive performance from either man could see them moved to the #1 contender, especially given Moreno’s reluctance to agree to the trilogy with Figueiredo and Askarov. It has been speculated that Moreno wants Pantoja as his first defense to avenge his two prior losses to the Brazilian.
Fighter Profile: Alexandre Pantoja (23-5-0, 10-3 UFC)
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in April 1990, Alexandre “The Cannibal” Pantoja boats an impressive record of 8 KO/TKOs, 8 submissions, and 7 decision victories, with all of his losses coming by way of decision. However, many are unaware that he was also crowned the Brazilian Muay Thai Champion. He decided to begin training MMA after finding success in both disciplines.
Having originally fought out of Nova Uniao in Brazil, Pantoja quickly became flyweight champion in LFA precursor, RFA, and Shooto Brazil, before being cast in TUF 26: Tournament of Champions. After defeating Moreno and Kai Kara-France in TUF, before a UD Loss to Hiromasa Ougikubo, he was quickly signed to the promotion and began training at American Top Team. Pantoja’s most recent fight was in February of this year, where he welcomed the former Rizin Bantamweight Champion, Manel Kape, to the UFC. Pantoja won by UD.
Fighter Profile: Brandon Royval (12-5-0, 2-1-0 UFC)
Hailing from Denver, Colorado, and training out of FactoryX Muay Thai, Brandon Royval began training BJJ and Muay Thai at age 15. Three years later, after he started training, Royval began his amateur career, ranking up a 5-0 record before going pro. Royval continued to work at his full-time job in the Juvenile Justice System right up until his win over Kai Kara-France in September last year. Despite less experience than his opponent, Royval has proven his ground abilities, with ⅔ of his wins coming by submission. “Raw Dawg” has earned a performance bonus in all of his UFC wins to date.
One of the things that makes flyweight bouts so interesting is the variety in sizes of the fighters, and this fight will be no different. Royval towers over, not just most flyweights, but most bantamweights as well. He is as tall as the average UFC featherweight, standing at 5’9 with a reach of 70.5 inches, which is a full 3 inches more than the divisional average. On the other hand, Pantoja stands at the divisional average of 5’5, with a marginally longer than average reach at 68 inches, half an inch longer than the average.
Given Royval’s stature, one might assume that he cuts a lot of weight, but he seems to keep himself lean both in and out of camp, which helps him maintain his breakneck pace in his fights. Pantoja, on the other hand, like most Brazilians, likely cuts more than 10lbs on fight week alone, which, as we saw at UFC 263, had a clear impact on Figueiredo, and is what he claims, was the deciding factor in his loss to Moreno.
Given these two men’s extremely similar training, it’s hard to choose which way this fight will go. If Pantoja can manage his weight cut effectively, dictate the pace, and keep the fight on the feet, his experience and superior striking credentials should edge him the win.
On the other hand, Royval has the range and height advantage and the seemingly easier cut, which should allow him to dictate the range, which he does superbly, feinting low kicks but throwing knees right up the middle. If the fight goes to the ground, it’s anybody’s guess who will come out on top, with both men being incredibly proficient with their BJJ, both offensively and defensively.
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