A interim belt is rarely defended in the UFC. The company tends to book interim and undisputed titleholders against each other to settle the score. This time, however, Alexandre Pantoja is suggesting a change in script.
With 125-pound king Deiveson Figueiredo sidelined and Brandon Moreno battling Kai Kara-France for the interim strap on Saturday at UFC 277, Pantoja arrives in Dallas to face Alex Perez – and to serve as the back-up fighter for the co-main.
The fact that he has beaten both Moreno and Kara-France in the past — and given injured Figueiredo a war — gives him extra hope in convincing UFC President Dana White.
“Having an opponent, a goal in mind, is what matters to me,” Pantoja said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “If the [Moreno-KKF] fight fells off and I can get the belt, even better. That said, I have my fight and it’s against a great opponent in Alex Perez, so it’s not just another fight. Winning this one, I’ll show I have to be the next contender. As I see, I don’t know if [Figueiredo] would be ready to fight this year, so this [win] really shows I’m the next in line.”
“Not that I’m counting on it, but I think it’s quite possible that it happens,” Pantoja said. “Maybe [Figueiredo] thinks it’s more interesting to move up to bantamweight, but I’ll fight [Perez] thinking that a win guarantees me a shot at the [interim] title. I know it’s possible that the winner of Moreno and Kai gets to fight Deiveson for the belt, but I’m the dark horse, right? I’m focused on my goal. I think think Deiveson might not fight again this year because I know his weight cut isn’t easy.”
Pantoja must do his part and get the job done in Dallas to keep his hopes alive and added, “I have weapons to beat [Perez] on the feet or by submission.”
“It depends on what he offers me,” he said. “He’s a very tough opponent. What wrestlers have offered me so far is a grappling match, an anti-game. After working here at American Top Team for four years, I see I have a pretty solid game to beat this type of game. If he comes here thinking he can stop me, he’s wrong. I’m coming in hungry to win this fight by stoppage.”
The Brazilian gives a slight advantage to Kara-France against Moreno in the co-main event of UFC 277 because “he’s hungry with the possibility of making history and bringing that title to New Zealand.” But he still considers Figueiredo the toughest match-up right now in the flyweight division.
“He has that killer instinct, something I also see in myself,” Pantoja said of the his countryman. “I could see that when I fought him. Without a doubt, I think he’s the man to beat in the division right now.”