After escaping with his title at UFC 301, what’s next for Alexandre Pantoja?

MMA: UFC 301 - Pantoja vs Erceg
Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

This past Saturday night in the main event of UFC 301, the flyweight title was on the line. Alexandre Pantoja (28-5) was defending his title in his home country against a very game challenger in Australia’s Steve Erceg (12-2).

It was very evident from the opening bell that Erceg was going to be a tougher challenge than many thought considering the fact that Erceg was ranked 10th entering the title fight. Make no mistake about it, Steve Erceg was the better fighter on the feet on Saturday night. He did significantly more damage when they were striking.

However, entering the fight, I figured the grappling would be Pantoja’s biggest weapon. Throughout the first four rounds, Pantoja won two of the rounds leaning heavily on his takedowns. However, entering the final round, I had it 39-37 Erceg while two of the three judges had it 38-38.

Erceg was winning the final round on the feet and then he made the biggest mistake of his career. He tried to land a takedown on the much superior grappler and Pantoja used that attempt to reverse the position and he ended up on top. Pantoja rode out the final couple of minutes on top and that was enough to win him the final round and the decision. The champion is very fortunate to walk out of UFC 301 with the title.

What’s next after UFC 301?

Pantoja said after the fight that he wanted to take some time before his next fight. He’s fought three times since last July and all three fights went the full 25 minutes. I think it’s wise for him and the division for him to wait until the fall before defending his title again.

That said, who should the UFC look at in terms of his next challenger. Brandon Royval is the top contender at 125 after defeating Brandon Moreno, but he’s already lost to Pantoja twice. It would be a tough sell for the fanbase but he’s definitely an option. Amir Albazi is definitely someone to watch as well as Muhammad Mokaev.

Personally, I’d rather have one of them get the next shot just to keep things fresh at 125. I think you’re likely going to see some title eliminator matchups over the summer and that will allow the UFC to pick an ideal opponent for Pantoja’s return. Honestly, I wouldn’t rule out Steve Erceg.

While Erceg just fought for the title, I could see him getting another shot should he come back and have a big win over someone like Brandon Royval in his next fight. For Pantoja, the next few months will be a wait and see who appears as the next clear challenger to his throne.

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