Alexandre Pantoja has beaten some of the world’s best flyweights over 30 professional MMA bouts, and he holds two victories over current UFC king Brandon Moreno. That makes him dream bigger going into UFC 290 on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Pantoja was the backup fighter on two separate occasions in the UFC, but both title bouts went on without hiccups. Finally a title challenger, the pride of Arraial do Cabo, Brazil, meets Moreno a third time.
Pantoja ended the first clash via submission during an exhibition on The Ultimate Fighter in 2016, and two years later notched a dominant decision over Moreno.
“What changes now is that he’s the champion,” Pantoja said on a recent episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “The confidence he has of being champion means a lot. To me, he’s a completely different fighter. I know that, but he’s someone I’ve beat before.
“I look him in the eyes, and I know where I can push. A lot of people say how much he has evolved — and he did, no doubt about it — but I’m at American Top Team for five years now, and I know how much I’ve evolved as well.
“I know he’s a different fighter, and that’s exactly what I expect. I really want to fight the best Moreno possible, you know? I’m sure he’ll give me that. He beat Deiveson Figueiredo dominantly. He knocked out Kai Kara-France, a very aggressive fighter that was making some noise in the division, with a clean knockout.”
Pantoja said Moreno has earned his success and has “such a beautiful story in the UFC.” But he ultimately wants to ruin it when they clash at the T-Mobile Arena. After that, he plans to pile on contender after contender until he’s reached legendary status.
“It’s hard to tie Demetrious Johnson’s [record], but I hope to get to pound-for-pound [best],” Pantoja said. “I really want to go head to head with those guys in the top of the pound-for-pound [rankings]. I don’t want to be only the champion of my division, I want to be one of the world’s greatest martial artists.”
Pantoja doesn’t believe the UFC should grant Moreno an immediate rematch after UFC 290 because there are other contenders waiting for their opportunities. He plans to be an “active champion” and put his belt on the line before the end of 2023.
“I respect him a lot, I respect his history and the family he’s raised,” Pantoja said of Moreno. “He’s a champion the UFC really likes. He has charisma, but the UFC is not about the nicest fighter, the UFC was created to prove who’s the best martial artist, and I’m going there to prove it.”
“I’m sure Moreno will train three times harder [because he’s 0-2] and come ready, but so have I,” he continued. “I’m reinventing myself every single day. I try to become better and put myself in uncomfortable situations the entire time, because after Moreno, there’s the Deiveson [Figueiredos] of the world, the Manel Kapes, the Matheus Nicolaus’, you know? There are great names in this division. This division has never been better, and I’m happy about this. I hope this fight is so great it goes down in history.”
Pantoja said he never really thought he would be in the UFC one day, let alone hold the championship belt. “Already a winner” for everything he has accomplished inside and outside the cage, Pantoja will for the first time bring his kids with him from Florida to Las Vegas for fight week, hoping to hand them a shiny gift on Saturday.
“My teammates say I’m already the champion, and training with those guys on a daily basis shows me there’s no such things as champion in advance,” he said. “You have to go through the process. I’m ready to get tired, to recover and to start all over. There are says you go to the gym and get beat up and is like, ‘Wait, hold on.’ I have to work really hard to be ready for Moreno.”