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Brandon Royval declares himself No. 1 contender at 125 pounds, hopes Alexandre Pantoja beats Brandon Moreno at UFC 290

Brandon Royval believes he is next in line for a flyweight title shot.

This past weekend, Royval secured his third straight win, knocking out Matheus Nicolau with a knee and follow-up elbows at UFC Kansas City. A potential title eliminator between two top flyweights in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, the bout was nonetheless relegated to the prelims on Saturday, something Dana White even acknowledged that the UFC “f***** up.” White seems intent not to make the same mistake twice though as speaking with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, Royval revealed he has been guaranteed a chance to serve as the backup fighter for the upcoming title match between Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja.

“I’m the No. 1 contender,” Royval said. “I don’t get the rankings at all. I don’t get who does the rankings or how they go about, and I get that Deiveson Figueiredo would be in front of me, but I don’t get why Kai Kara-France is in front of me. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m the No. 1 contender, Kai Kara-France and Deiveson are coming off losses, I’m up next for the belt. As far as I’ve been told, I’m weighing in as the alternate for the title fight. I got the backup spot and I think that’s guaranteed. So I don’t know if that means I’m going to be next for the title fight, but I’m staying ready, I’m getting ready for this in case something happens.”

Moreno and Pantoja are set to face off for the third time in the co-main event of UFC 290 in July, and Royval has history with both men. Moreno finished Royval with strikes at UFC 255 in 2020, and Pantoja submitted him nine months later at UFC Vegas 34. Those are Royval’s most recent losses in MMA, and while he would ultimately like to fight both men, one of them is more appealing than the other.

“[Moreno]’s the bigger fight and I think that’s the one that’s going to be doing the numbers, and ideally that’s probably the one that’s going to make me more money in the long run and gain more fans, but for selfish reasons, I want to fight Pantoja,” Royval said. “I want to fight Pantoja for the belt. I think Pantoja has had a hard run at the belt, to get a title shot finally, and it would be cool to see him win, but more importantly for me, I want to take that from him. I want that win back. That’s the only loss I have in the UFC, or the only loss that I consider in the UFC. I don’t consider that Brandon Moreno [fight] really a loss. So to me, that’s what I want. I want revenge. I want to get my lick back. I want it all. I’ll definitely want to fight Brandon Moreno sometime in the near future but Pantoja is who I wake up thinking about every day and who I have nightmares about, because I lost that fight. That’s the one the irks me majorly.”

When asked why he doesn’t feel his loss to Moreno is legitimate, Royval explained that he he was injured during the fight, so he feels the fight should be viewed as a no contest rather than a real loss, whereas with Pantoja, he was simply beaten.

“Because I dislocated my shoulder when I was on top of him,” Royval said. “I was literally on top of him, going for a leg lock —and I had real bad shoulder issues. I knew it was a possibility that my shoulder could dislocate, but I was riding kind of a high win streak right then, so it was just like — I was on top of him ground-and-pounding when my shoulder dislocated. I think it was more a right time, right reason. I needed that surgery anyway, so maybe it was bound to happen, but I think if anything that’s a no contest.”

Unfortunately for Royval, he’s not sure he will get his wish. Though Moreno has already lost to Pantoja twice, once on The Ultimate Fighter 24 and once in the UFC, the improvements Moreno has shown since then in his tetralogy with Figueiredo make Royval think “The Assassin Baby” will retain his title come this summer.

“Pantoja has only had one fight since him and I fought, so you don’t really know what he’s up to,” Royval said. “You’ve seen Moreno’s obvious improvements throughout the years. So I would probably give the advantage to Moreno, just because he’s been active, he’s been in these title fights over and over and over again, cardio seems like it holds up in the fifth round. I don’t know if Pantoja can keep the pace that he tries to sustain for five rounds straight. It would be interesting to see if he could, but that being said, I think Moreno, in a five round fight, could win it.”

UFC 290 takes place on July 8 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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