With two wins over UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno, Alexandre Pantoja is likely next in line for the title after the Mexican talent finished Deiveson Figueiredo to put an end to their tetralogy at UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro. And looking back at one of those wins, Pantoja reveals it gave him a unique feeling.
Pantoja and Moreno were enlisted to compete at the 24th season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2016, a special season that featured flyweight champions from various promotions. The Brazilian was the No. 1 seed, with Moreno being the last pick, and they met in the opening bout.
“It was a super tough fight, brother,” Pantoja said on this week’s Trocação Franca podcast. “There was a moment I landed and elbow on his face, that was the only time I felt sorry to be beating someone because we were both there for our families, for everybody. I landed the elbow and he’s bleeding, that’s the only time in my life that I thought about it during a fight. I was like, ‘F*ck, this guy is willing to die here, brother.’ And he was. I was hurting him and he was trying [to recover].”
Pantoja tapped Moreno with a rear-naked choke midway through round two, but the bout isn’t listed on his official MMA record since TUF bouts are considered exhibitions. They met again two years later at UFC Chile, and this time Pantoja dominated to win a decision.
Now campaigning for a trilogy bout with the UFC belt on the line after being recruited as the backup fighter at UFC 283, Pantoja said he did not enjoy being painted as a villain after the event with Moreno saying at the press conference that their post-fight interaction backstage started “very friendly”, but then he “started to look a little bit aggressive”.
“I was a little upset about that,” Pantoja said. “I was working. This is entertainment. I went there because I felt obligated as a UFC employee, I had to do something, to make an appearance, to create something, but I respect Moreno a lot. I’ve known Moreno for a long time, we had a nice exchange on TUF and that’s what matters to me. … I have a ton of respect for him, the family he’s built, his wife and kids, so when I go there to congratulate him and also work, of course, I’m not being disrespectful or trying to take anything away from his moment. It saddens me that he thinks this way.
“Of course that I’m going to ask him when we’re going to fight. Let’s fight next month? In two months? Tell me know much time you need. And [his team] was like, ‘Get out of here, let him enjoy his moment.’ F*ck you, man. I wasn’t being disrespectful, that’s not who I am. I don’t want Moreno to put me on this villain role like I was trying to ruin his moment.
“And honestly, let’s be clear here, he lost twice to me. I could say he was afraid of me, that he’s afraid of fighting me, but I doubt it, man. The Mexican people are strong. He’s a great athlete and has shown incredible evolution against Deiveson Figueiredo. I really want Brendon Moreno to come a better fighter, in his prime.”
Pantoja said he’s willing to wait as long as it takes to face Moreno for the UFC title, but warns “the longer it takes, the worse it will be” for Moreno. It’s still unclear when Moreno will defend his title next, but watching the Mexican on a wheelchair backstage could indicate a longer break.
“He only got that wheelchair after I went there to talk to him,” Pantoja laughed. “He was giving interviews, talking to everybody, running [away from fans throwing things at him]. F*ck, he felt me more than he felt Deiveson’s strikes [laughs].”