After an incredibly gutsy effort, Alexandre Pantoja is a UFC champion.
Pantoja defeated Brandon Moreno via split decision (46-49, 48-47, 48-47) to capture the flyweight title in the thrilling UFC 290 co-main event Saturday night in Las Vegas.
The fight was the third time Pantoja and Moreno met in the cage – and the third time Pantoja won. They first met in an exhibition bout on “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2016, with Pantoja winning by submission. And then Pantoja took a unanimous decision over Moreno in a professional bout in the UFC two years later.
Their third fight was a competitive, back-and-forth slugfest for all five rounds.
Pantoja got off to a good start in the first, knocking Moreno down and opening a cut on his face. Moreno bounced back in the second round by landing jabs and heavy punches.
“In the first round, I thought Moreno was done,” Pantoja said in his postfight interview. “But he came back in the second round, made it a tough round for me.”
The third and fourth rounds were close. Pantoja and Moreno traded big shots on the feet, making for one of the most entertaining flyweight title fights in UFC history. Pantoja racked up control time on the ground with his grappling, but Moreno’s submission defense held up.
Pantoja sealed the deal by controlling Moreno for most of the fifth round.
“(Moreno) deserves all this love from Mexico, and deserves my respect, too,” Pantoja said.
“But now it’s my moment,” he continued. “I want to enjoy everything.”
With the victory, Pantoja is riding a four-fight winning streak. The 33-year-old, who made his Octagon debut in 2017, is the only UFC champion from Brazil after Amanda Nunes’ June retirement.
Moreno’s second reign as UFC flyweight champion ends. He defeated Deiveson Figueiredo in 2021 to begin his first reign, lost the title to Figueiredo in 2022, and then won the belt again with another victory over Figueiredo in January. Moreno, of Mexico, was riding a two-fight winning streak.
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