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Alexandre Pantoja thinks Henry Cejudo might go after third UFC belt instead of defending flyweight title

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Alexandre Pantoja is coming off three straight wins in the UFC.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Months after winning a UFC fight in Argentina and pleading to Henry Cejudo to “save” the flyweight division, Alexandre Pantoja believes the weight class is finally here to stay. Yet, that doesn’t mean he expects Cejudo to return to 125 pounds to defend one of his belts next.

Cejudo won flyweight gold last August and defended it against T.J. DIllashaw in January before moving up to bantamweight to win the vacant title against Marlon Moraes in June. And even though UFC president Dana White said Cejudo’s following move should be a flyweight title defense against Joseph Benavidez, Pantoja, who was coached by Cejudo during The Ultimate Fighter 24 in 2016, expects him to go up in weight instead.

“That’s up to him now, he can (stay with both titles) and defend them,” Pantoja told MMA Fighting, “but I know him really well, and I know that someone who became an Olympic champion and a two-division champion in the UFC wants more. I know he would prefer to go after the 145-pound title. Maybe he wouldn’t be as excited to defend a title as he would be to move up and make more history in the UFC.”

And even if Cejudo is indeed going back to flyweight next, Pantoja believes there’s enough time to make a championship bout that doesn’t include him. The American Top Team product is slated to face Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 240 in Edmonton, Canada, and plans to call out Benavidez with a win on Saturday.

“You can be sure that I will win this fight and ask to fight Benavidez next, and I hope to get this fight for an interim title,” Pantoja said. “I’ll insist on that until I get it. Henry is injured and won’t fight for the next six months. Benavidez is ready to fight and should fight soon. This must happen. And then Cejudo fights the interim champion when he returns.”

Pantoja is currently riding a three-fight winning streak, defeating Brandon Moreno via decision before finishing Ulka Sasaki and Wilson Reis. Pantoja says that “fighting a Brazilian is always different,” and beings close to a title shot makes him hungrier than ever for a three-round contest with Figueiredo.

“Daico” recently suffered the first loss of his professional career to Jussier Formiga, dropping to 15-1 in MMA. To make things more interesting, Pantoja and Formiga are teammates at American Top Team in Florida and share the same coaches. After watching Formiga win a decision in Nashville, Pantoja says he knows how to get the job done.

“(Formiga) showed that technique can overcome willpower and explosiveness,” Pantoja said. “Formiga is an experienced fighter and was really comfortable in the Octagon, using his strategy. Formiga is one of the best grapplers not only in the flyweight division, but in all UFC, and he showed he can control a fight on the ground. He showed some openings, but Formiga is a great grappler so that’s no parameter.

“I believe (Figueiredo) will gain more (technique) with more fights down the line and evolve with that. We believe he has a huge heart, but I do see myself more technical and I know how to use my explosiveness at the right time.”