Pantoja, who faces Brandon Royval at the UFC APEX, holds a couple of wins over “The Assassin Baby” inside the octagon. The first one took place during The Ultimate Fighter 24 in 2016, therefore it isn’t included in his official record. Two years after tapping Moreno with a rear-naked choke, the Brazilian came out on top via decision at UFC Chile.
“He has evolved a lot [since then], no doubt about it,” Pantoja said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I even joke that I’ve helped him a lot because he came back way better after the two losses he had against me. When he lost on TUF, he went to the UFC and won a ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus. And then, after he lost to me in the UFC, he left the UFC and came back to become champion.
“He’s a great kid, I like him, I’ve had a good relationship with him, but business is business, right? I’ve submitted him once, I beat him 30-26, and now I’ll go for the knockout [laughs]. Let’s see what happens.”
Pantoja is coming off a decision victory over former RIZIN bantamweight champion Manel Kape in February and believes that a good win against Royval could be enough to secure him a shot at Moreno next.
“No doubt about it,” Pantoja said. “Not only because I’ve beaten him twice, but also because I’m ranked No. 3 and I’m fighting Brandon Royval, a very tough opponent whose only [UFC] loss [to Moreno] was due to an injury. I think that adds a lot to the UFC, this drama behind the fight, but I’m focused on Saturday. I have a very tough opponent now.
“I’m very excited for this fight because [Royval] is super tough. He doesn’t have a record as impressive as mine but who’s in the game knows how aggressive and good he is. In this weight class, everyone in the top 10 can beat the champion, whoever that is. You have fighters on the same level, so closely matched. We don’t have the media that other weight classes have, but we have brilliant fighters in this division.”
Pantoja says he has evolved a lot mentally since his win last setback in the cage, a decision upset to Askar Askarov in Abu Dhabi. Learning to fight smart instead of “getting punched in the face and wanting to fire back right away,” Pantoja feels ready to reach the top of the 125-pound class.
“I’m ready to do my best, to be the best Alexandre Pantoja in there,” he said. “I’m ready to fight him on the feet but also submit him. I can only assure you that I’m going to give my best and try to put on a show. If God wants me to come out victorious Saturday, I’m definitely going to ask for the belt. It’s my time.”