Alexandre Pantoja is ready to step in and compete for the UFC flyweight championship on July 18 if the company needs him.
“The Cannibal” faces Askar Askarov earlier that night on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, and told MMA Fighting he’s the backup fighter in case something happens to either Deiveson Figueiredo or Joseph Benavidez, who rematch for the vacant belt in the main event. Ag. Fight first reported the news.
“They fought before and the division was stuck because of (Figueiredo’s) weight,” Pantoja said. “And it wouldn’t make any sense for me to fight anyone else unless I was the backup fighter in this fight in case the same thing happened again. The division can’t stop.”
By “the same thing” Pantoja means Figueiredo missing weight. The Brazilian came in more than a pound over the limit for the championship clash in February, keeping the division without a new king after dispatching Benavidez in the second round.
Pantoja says the UFC has made him the plan B in case any fighter gets injured or comes in over the flyweight limit.
“I volunteered since the beginning when I knew that this fight would happen, and then they offered me Askarov,” Pantoja said. “It’s the fight that makes sense, no doubt, since he’s ranked below me — Brandon (Moreno) is ranked ahead of me but I’ve beaten him twice already, I’m not sure they would like to see it again.”
Pantoja’s main goal in Abu Dhabi is to face Askarov because he doesn’t expect Figueiredo to have weight issues again, “but I did a training camp for three guys” now. The American Top Team talent would rather have a full camp focused on the belt, “the perfect scenario,” but wouldn’t shy away from making history on “Fight Island.”
“If this fight gets canceled, it won’t be surprising if I come back from this island with the belt because I’m ready for this,” Pantoja said. “I wake up every day and go to the gym feeling like I’m the champion now. That’s how I live. I feel super ready. You know how hard I’ve worked to get to this moment.”
“The Cannibal” believes “savage” Figueiredo “made it pretty clear” that he’s the better fighter over Benavidez and will claim the gold on July 18, and doesn’t see “anything other than ‘Daico’ and I fighting for the belt in Brazil” in a rematch next. Pantoja fell to Figueiredo by unanimous decision in their previous meeting in 2019.
For now, all Pantoja wants is to cement his place as the No. 1 contender in the 125-pound division.
“I say it every day in the gym, I’ll knock him out in the first round,” Pantoja said. “I say that knowing there’s a great opponent across the cage, someone that will do everything he can to beat me, but what I’ve been doing in the gym every day, I would bet on that.”