It was a war for the ages as Pantoja and Moreno unleashed hell on each other for five rounds before finally making it to the final horn. When it was over, the scorecards could have easily gone either way, which was reflected by the judges with two officials giving Pantoja the fight with a pair of 48-47 scores and the third official going 49-46 for Moreno.
That was still enough for Pantoja to get the win as he wrapped the UFC featherweight title around his waist for the first time.
“In the first round, I thought Moreno was done and he came back,” Pantoja said afterwards. “This guy deserves all the love for Mexico. He deserves my respect, too. Now I worked so hard for that and now it’s my moment.
“If you know my story, you’re going to love me. I worked so hard for that. Moreno evolved so much. I didn’t expect a tough guy like that tonight. I worked so hard.”
It’s hard to believe these two won’t see each other again, although now Pantoja technically holds three wins over Moreno, which includes an exhibition bout during their time together on The Ultimate Fighter.
From the first seconds of the fight it was clear this was going to be a battle with neither flyweight giving an inch. With Pantoja focused on getting the fight to the floor in the early going, Moreno displayed crisp striking from the outside with several stiff punches connecting flush on the Brazilian.
Just when it looked like Moreno was in control on the feet, Pantoja clipped the flyweight champion with a short punch that dropped him to the canvas.
When Moreno got back to his feet he had a huge gash over his eye that had blood flowing down his face thanks to an elbow landed on the ground with Pantoja immediately walking him down again. Pantoja’s aggression was paying dividends but Moreno was undeterred, especially when he found time to breathe and began working from the outside.
At distance, Moreno was repeatedly popping Pantoja in the mush with a stiff jab that was doing a lot of damage. As the fight moved into the closing moments of the second round, Pantoja looked like he was running low on gas while Moreno was just stabbing him with punches that were almost landing at will.
Just when it looked like Pantoja was in trouble, he reversed course by finally closing the distance on Moreno and dragging the fight into his world on the ground. Pantoja quickly advanced to take the back as he began working for the submission but Moreno continued scrambling until he finally broke free to return to the feet.
With both flyweights wearing the crimson mask, Moreno and Pantoja were just going back-and-forth in every exchange. There was just no slowing down as each fighter continued to do damage in an effort to finally gain the upper hand.
Even when the fight hit the ground, Pantoja attempted to exert dominance with his high-level grappling but Moreno would never allow him a second to get comfortable. Just as the fourth round was coming to a close, Moreno cracked Pantoja with a standing elbow that once again saw the momentum shift in the fight.
There was an unbelievable amount of punishment being dished out on both sides, although it appeared Moreno was connecting with the better strikes while Pantoja just ate every shot and kept coming forward. Pantoja eventually rushed ahead to force another grappling exchange as he jumped on Moreno’s back while standing as he started hammering away with punches.
He stayed there until the fight came to a close, which may have been the difference in the fight as Pantoja was definitely ahead when it came to the grappling. Obviously, Moreno dished out a lot of savagery on the feet so it probably won’t take much to convince the powers that be to give him another shot at Pantoja in the future.
For now, the 33-year-old Brazilian can stand tall as the new king of the flyweight division while improving his overall record to 26-5 with the most important victory of his career on Saturday.