Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight rivals, Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja, locked horns TONIGHT (Sat., July 8, 2023) at UFC 290, which took place inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, for technically the third time.
Indeed, Pantoja submitted Moreno during The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 24, which is/was considered an exhibition bout. “The Cannibal” did it again, though, for “real” when the talented 125-pound hooked ‘em up at UFC Fight Night 129, taking home a unanimous decision back in May 2018, triggering UFC to release Moreno temporarily (just one fight) from his contract.
Moreno has built up a tremendous resume since — including an epic quadrilogy with Deiveson Figueiredo — but Pantoja remaied the missing link. And it’s still missing after 25 more minutes of cage time together, with Pantoja blitzing Moreno early and often, using takedowns and top-shelf Brazilian jiu-jitsu to wrest the title away from his nemesis.
Pantoja flew out of his corner to start the fight like he was shot out of a cannon, perhaps looking to send a message to Moreno early that this was going to be a fight. Moreno was able to weather the early blitz, lock up the Brazilian along the cage and slowed down the tempo like a boss. Pantoja circled out and drilled Moreno with a knee on the break, with Moreno putting together a solid combination moments later. Pantoja with a left jab, which he used to try and set up a takedown, but Moreno diffused the attack quickly and punished him on the exit. Midway through the round, Pantoja dropped Moreno with a hard right hand. He quickly jumped on top, looked to pass guard, while dropping hard elbows. Moreno wisely shelled up, used his legs to create distance and got back to his feet with 90 seconds on the clock. Blood trickling from his right eye, Pantoja continued to attack like a wild dog, drilling Moreno with shots and no caring if he eats five just to land one. High kick from Pantoja is blocked, but in the ensuing scramble, was able to get behind the champion along the cage before a hectic round one came to a close.
Perhaps no one told Pantoja this was a five-round fight — he was seemingly intent on getting Moreno out of there in less than five minutes. But, he kept moving forward to start the second stanza as both fighters traded hard hooks from the jump. Nice jab from Moreno appeared to wobble Pantoja, snapping his head back at will, but he continued to press forward. Big overhand right from Pantoja — he’s putting everything he has into these punches. Nice jab from Moreno as Pantoja began to slow down finally. And Moreno used the moment to get behind Pantoja with a slick takedown. He appeared to angle for a rear-naked choke, but Pantoja wasn’t really budging or moving. Pantoja was able to rip the forearm out from underneath his chin, scramble and get back to his feet with two minutes on the clock. Moreno began to open up on the feet, with the Mexican crowd getting behind him with every shot. With one minute left in the round, Pantoja put together another flurry, but he was clearly fatigued. Moreno, on the other hand, appeared to be just warming up.
Between rounds, Pantoja’s corner pleaded with him to try and start blocking punches. And in perhaps a strategic move, he kneed Moreno in the junk just 10 seconds into the third round. Pantoja caught a second wind and bum-rushed Moreno on the restart, getting to his back and getting a tight body triangle locked in with four minutes on the clock. Moreno bucked and fought the hands as best he could, but Pantoja was in a very dominant position with a lot of time left on the clock. But just after one minute, Moreno was able to twist to his belly, escape and get back to his feet. Moreno fired off jabs on the restart, with Pantoja digging hard shots to the body. Moreno really began to put together super fast, accurate strikes — complete with a head kick that once again wobbled Pantoja, who might be made of that airplane black box material with all the abuse he’s taking. He was able to get Moreno back down to the canvas with a minute remaining in the round, drilling him with elbows off his back. Rather than eat them, Moreno let him return to his feet and the pair traded shots until the bell blared. Solid round from Pantoja, who might have a 2-1 lead, but this is a five-round fight.
Pantoja might be up on the judges scorecards, but Moreno was up on the energy bar. Beautiful, fast flurry from Moreno to kickoff the championship rounds, with Pantoja countering with a hard left hook. Moreno continued to poor it on, including a huge uppercut/elbow combination, but Pantoja used the momentum to secure another takedown. Moreno was back to his feet super fast this time, spinning and trying to get away, but the Brazilian dragged him right back down to the canvas. Moreno was able to once again get back to his feet, but Pantoja was draped all over his back. Pantoja didn’t do much with the position — perhaps just resting as Moreno carried his weight. Moreno finally relented and the pair hit the canvas again. And while Pantoja angled for an arm-triangle choke, Moreno was able to spin out of his clutches. Moreno tried to beat him up on the ground as best he could, but Pantoja got back to his feet as the round came to a close, eating a hard elbow at the buzzer.
Round four might be the pivotal round — not much really happened. So, either Moreno is down 1-3 or the fight is even based on what the judges saw. Then again, it might not matter if Moreno can used that energy advantage down the stretch. The pair continued to just trade shots down the stretch until Pantoja scored another takedown at the midway point. Moreno was now on his back, blood streaming from his nose. He was able to get back to his feet, but once again Pantoja was back-packing the Mexican standout.
That was a heck of a fight — would love to see it again. But, that probably won’t happen right away with Brandon Royval — who weighed in for UFC 290 as the championship backup fighter — is now waiting in the wings.
Final result: Pantoja def. Moreno via split decision
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