Alexandre Pantoja Hopes Brandon Moreno Doesn’t Try to Avoid Trilogy Bout

As a reserve fighter for the UFC 283 co-main event, Alexandre Pantoja was one of the first people to congratulate Brandon Moreno backstage after the Mexican fighter regained the flyweight title in Rio de Janeiro last weekend with a victory over Deiveson Figueiredo.

The tone of that interaction quickly changed, however, when Moreno claimed at the post-fight press conference that Pantoja became aggressive in demanding to know a potential date for his own championship opportunity. With a pair of victories over Moreno to his credit (one was an exhibition on “The Ultimate Fighter 24”), Pantoja seems to be the next logical No. 1 contender at 125 pounds.

“There is no other fight that makes sense now. In addition to being the more highly-ranked guy, I beat the champion clearly twice,” Pantoja told Sherdog.com. “Even Moreno recognized that at the press conference, but when I met him after the fight he was standing up celebrating and after I talked to him, he was seated in a wheelchair. How come? I truly hope that doesn't mean that he will find an injury and avoid the trilogy for the belt.”

Pantoja believes Kai Kara France was a more difficult challenge for Moreno than the fourth meeting with Figueiredo.

“It was clear that Figueiredo’s worst battle was against the scale,” Pantoja said. “I hope he can bring back his prime going up to the bantamweight division. Clearly Kara France gave a tougher fight to Brandon than Figueiredo.”

Hailing from Arraial do Cabo, a city located 100 miles from Rio de Janeiro, Pantoja always dreamed to fight on a UFC card in front of his people. Since Moreno won the belt in Brazil, however, Pantoja is aware that he may have to go into hostile territory for a title shot of his own.

“The energy around the arena was unbelivable,” Pantoja said. “In addition to the crowd’s enthusiasm, we had Royce [Gracie], Minotauro [Nogueira], Demian [Maia], [Jose] Aldo and so many legends around the Octagon. I wouldnt lose to anyone in here. But I don’t care where UFC makes that fight. If it’s Mexico or the U.S., I´ll be ready. I waited for so long, now it´s my turn.”

Pantoja recognizes that Moreno is a completely different fighter than the one he defeated in 2016 and 2018.

“There’s no doubt Moreno evolved a lot in last five years. Besides faster hands, he is much more consistent. But if he evolved, I evolved much more,” Pantoja said. “I’ve been competing 15 years in MMA. During that time I’ve learned new things from every team I’ve trained with: TFT, Nova Uniao, Black House, [Henry] Cejudo.”

The Brazilian points to his last five years at American Top Team as the turning point in his career.

“Besides the best structure and best trainers, ATT also has the best sparring in the world,” he said. “There is no other place on earth where you roll with a Horiguchi, Moraes, Jussier Formiga and Moicano in sequence. That means you gotta give your best all the time if you don’t want to have your head ripped off, and that makes you evolve day by day.”

With two victories over Moreno already in hand, Pantoja’s mastery over the champion could be compared to that of Alex Pereira’s against Israel Adesanya. Pereira claimed the middleweight belt at UFC 281 last November after already earning a pair of victories against Adesanya in professional kickboxing.

“Some people ask me if I believe I´ll be the ‘Poatan’ for Brandon Moreno, and I just answer that I’m the Pantoja for Brandon Moreno,” he said. “It´s pretty clear to me that he gets uncomfortable whenever we meet. It´s just like when a pinscher mets a pit bull.”

As far as Figueiredo’s move to bantamweight, Pantoja believes the ex-champ must make the right decisions in his new weight class.

“If he can recapture the prime Deiveson, that one that beat Pantoja and Moreno, he can be a threat in bantamweight division. In that case he needs to keep taking care of diet and look for some place he can get very tough sparring,” Pantoja said. “I’m not sure if he has that in his hometown.”

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