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Alexandre Pantoja ready to impress at UFC 220 after camp in ‘paradise’ with Henry Cejudo

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Pantoja vs Seery
Alexandre Pantoja looks for his third win since joining the UFC.
Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Arraial do Cabo has one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil. In fact, it is often referred as “The Brazilian Caribbean”. Living in such a wonderful place, 100 miles away from Rio de Janeiro, Alexandre Pantoja decided it was time to finally do the majority of training camp at home.

“Being at home is something new to me,” Pantoja told MMA Fighting. “It’s been a while since I did my camp there, so being close to my wife and kids was great, a fantastic energy.”

Training in his hometown doesn’t actually mean that he hasn’t had high-level training. Pantoja, who competed in the 24th edition of The Ultimate Fighter in 2016 under TUF coach Henry Cejudo, had the Olympic gold medalist and UFC flyweight as his main training partner in Arraial do Cabo.

“It was great to have Henry Cejudo in my hometown and do my camp there with him. That was very important to me,” he said. “We’re great friends and we help each other a lot. I hope one day we get to fight for the belt together. He’s a great guy, always happy, and helps everyone around him. Training with a guy like him not only elevates my wrestling level, since he has the best wrestling in the UFC, but I also have the chance to give him some of my aggressiveness as well.”

Add that to the ocasional trips to Rio de Janeiro, where Pantoja sparred at Nova Uniao, and you have a great training camp for his UFC 220 clash with Dustin Ortiz.

“Nova Uniao has the best sparring partners in the world,” Pantoja said. “They have so many great athletes competing in Europe and Asia, and many young athletes coming up as well.”

Ortiz has been fighting in the UFC for quite some time, going 6-5 inside the Octagon since 2013. He has an edge over Pantoja experience-wise, since the Brazilian has only fought twice since leaving the TUF house, and that’s exactly how the Brazilian expects his opponent to behave when the fight starts.

“The best path for me to win is in a brawl, I love this style,” he said. “I love to strike, to put on a beautiful and exciting fight. I see Dustin trying to slow down the fight and not allow me to actually fight. I believe he will try to get me close to the cage, but I’m prepared for that.

“Ortiz trains in a gym in San Francisco where I used to train in the past, so I imagine that the coach there has given him a few tips. I think the best tip is to avoid a stand-up fight with me because I’ve evolved a lot in the striking area. I believe that he will try to grapple me once he feels my hand.”

Pantoja is currently ranked at No. 11 in the UFC’s official list, one spot under Ortiz, and believes that a win in such a big card like UFC 220 will boost his popularity. A new blood in a division that Demetrious Johnson has pretty much cleaned up already, Pantoja is in no hurry to challenge the 125-pound kingpin.

“Demetrious Johnson is the best fighter in the world in my opinion, he’s undefeated and keeps defending the belt,” Pantoja said. “He’s a great challenge, and that motivates me even more to continue training and fighting. I will keep evolving until I get at the same level of the best in the world. I believe I will be ready for that.”

“I will take one short step after the other until I get there. I believe I will be able to fight two or three more times this year. The opponent they give me, I will study him and fight him, and maybe in 2019 that (title fight) might happen.”

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