The Brazilian flyweight, who entered the promotion after going through the 24th season of The Ultimate Fighter, injured his right elbow days after signing the contract to meet Seery in Scotland.
"I was training in the United States, right after they booked the fight, when I suffered this injury,” Pantoja told MMA Fighting. "I was training with a middleweight, which is not the ideal, when I put my hand on the ground to get up and ended up dislocating my elbow. I felt it move and get back into place. I thought I’d be able to continue training, but then I felt the pain."
Pantoja visited the doctor and realized the injury was worse than he initially thought. The flyweight tore one ligament and partially tore two others, but wanted to fight anyway.
"I was tense and almost cried because I thought I wouldn’t be able to fight anymore,” he said. "I couldn’t train for a week, and then I did physical therapy for three more weeks. I couldn’t do anything but run and throw kicks, which ended up helping me a lot because I threw many kicks than punches in the fight.”
When he talent met heavyweight legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at the UFC Athletes Retreat in Las Vegas, Pantoja heard about a treatment that would help him stay in the fight.
"I met ‘Minotauro' at the retreat and I knew he fought with this injury before,” Pantoja said. "My head coach Eric Albarracin talked to me about it, so I did a ARP (accelerated recovery performance) wave treatment, at PCI wellness in Scottsdale, to fix it. It was very painful, but helped me a lot in my recovery."
Pantoja only sparred three or four times ahead of UFC Fight Night 113, and put on an exciting contest in Glasgow.
"I knew Neil Seery is aggressive and likes to brawl, and I also like this style,” he said. "In my mind, I went to Scotland to get the ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus. We gave our best in the fight. The first two rounds, all I wanted was to put on a show, have fun. I connected two good punches in the first round, rocked him, and tried to finish him, but the submission wasn’t locked in, so I let it go so I wouldn’t get tired.
"He hit me with some good punches too, but that’s part of my style to walk forward the whole time. You eat one of two, but nothing that would make me stop being aggressive and going for a brawl."
Pantoja is now riding an 11-fight winning streak with six submission finishes, but says he didn’t consider going for takedowns early in the fight despite his grappling expertise.
"I knew I won the first two rounds, and he would give his all in the third, so I was one step ahead of him,” Pantoja said. "When I went for the takedown, I felt he was tired and fragile. It was easy to take him down and stay on top. I let him move and try to get back up and get tired, and when I realized he could’t get back up, it was time to use my jiu-jitsu. I got the mount and pretended I’d punch him, so he gave me his back and I went for the choke."
Targeting to get back in action around October, Pantoja wants to face someone ranked between Nos. 5 and No. 10 in the division. With flyweights Brandon Moreno and Sergio Pettis currently booked to headline a Fight Night in Mexico on Aug. 5, the winner of that bout could be an option, even though Pantoja already submitted one of the headliners during TUF 24.
"People ask me about Moreno, but he might wanna fight me more than I wanna fight him since I already defeated him, even though he’s ahead of me in the ranking,” Pantoja said. "I don’t think I have to call out someone I already beat, but that would be a good fight. He has a great fight coming up with Pettis now."