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Alexandre Pantoja ready to claim ‘King of Rio’ title if Jose Aldo retires

UFC 301 Pantoja v Erceg: Face Off
Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC

Alexandre Pantoja has been waiting a long time to come home.

The flyweight champion defends his title in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro this Saturday, when he fights Steve Erceg in the main event of UFC 301. Pantoja has not fought in Brazil since 2013, a little over three years before he joined the UFC roster.

Ahead of fight night, Pantoja was asked about sharing a card with the legendary Jose Aldo and whether he is prepared to take over Aldo’s mantle as “The King of Rio.”

“Brazil is the real world,” Pantoja said. “Here is the most beautiful city on the planet, Rio de Janeiro. I love to come here and that’s a special moment for me, having Jose Aldo on the same card. I hope Jose Aldo doesn’t stop fighting. I love watching him. I learned so much from him. I had the opportunity to train with Jose Aldo at Nova União like 10 years ago. This was very special for me, a young kid watching Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, and so many good fighters. I remember watching Jose Aldo training and he beat everyone in training. It doesn’t matter how many opponents he had in the same training, he killed everyone.

“I learned a lot with Aldo, and now at ATT, American Top Team, I learn a lot about defending takedowns, and Jose Aldo is one of the best to do that. I feel that connection and I want to prove how good I amm and then show to Jose Aldo I’m ready to be the King of Rio too.”

When the UFC visited Rio in January 2023, Pantoja was in attendance, but only as a backup for the flyweight title main event between then-champion Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno. The bout proceeded as scheduled, with Moreno defeating Figueiredo to regain the championship and win his four-fight series with his rival.

Pantoja then defeated Moreno at UFC 290 and followed that up with a successful title defense against Brandon Royval. Now, it’s his time to be in the spotlight.

“I never imagined this happening,” Pantoja said. “Last year, I’m here to see Moreno and Deiveson, I’m a backup guy to that fight. I think, ‘Maybe this is happening. Maybe God has something good for me.’ But now it’s better because you see my name on the banner, I’m in the main event — that’s so cool. I never dreamed of that because nobody can dream of that. Be a champion and back to your city to fight for the title? That’s a very good opportunity.

“The energy from the crowd is so amazing. I expect to give back all the energy. I want everybody to smile after my fight.”

It’s no secret that UFC 301 is lacking in star power, with several of the promotion’s most popular Brazilian fighters having recently been booked to stack the UFC 299 and UFC 300 cards. That has led to a somewhat lukewarm reception to Pantoja headlining against Erceg, a rising contender who made his UFC debut less than a year ago.

Pantoja welcomes a fresh challenge, especially since it has allowed him to headline at home.

“That’s a good name,” Pantoja said of Erceg. “I called the UFC to fight in Brazil, that’s my wish after I defended my belt with Royval. I’ve never fought in Brazil for the UFC, and now back to Rio like a champ, on top of the world, that’s so cool or me and for everyone helping me to come to that place. Super excited for that.

“I already beat all the guys at the front of the line. Royval, Moreno, Amir [Albazi] has an injury. I think Erceg is very lucky, but his luck is going to finish on May 4 because he’s fighting me.”

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