Alexandre Pantoja: UFC 301 a ‘watershed moment’ for flyweights

Alexandre Pantoja sits in elite status now as the only fighter not named Demetrious Johnson to have multiple title defenses in the UFC flyweight division.

A personal sense of pride was on full display Saturday during and after his UFC 301 main event title win over Steve Erceg. But it’s the words “main event” that almost mean as much to Pantoja (28-5 MMA, 12-3 UFC) as “title win.”

“I’ve always said this division is entirely tough,” Pantoja said at the UFC 301 post-fight news conference. “You can take the 10th-ranked guy and have him fight against the champion and you guys saw exactly that tonight. This division is all about work. You can’t move up in the rankings just by talking. I’m really happy to see this. I think it was a watershed moment for the division. We’ve been having main events in Mexico. There was a main event last week between flyweights, so I’m very happy to see this moment.”

Erceg (12-2 MMA, 3-1 UFC) was viewed by many as a bit of reach in terms of title challengers. But with the promotion in need of a UFC 301 main event and out of other options, it decided to fast-track the promising Erceg, who badly split open Pantoja with an elbow in the third round.

“I always say the only way someone is going to kill me in there is when they allow people to go in there with guns. You’re not going to take me out. As long as I’m breathing, I’m going to be fighting back. I did expect the fight to end sooner. But again, the Australian guy is very tough. He’s going to be very tested in this division. But you can see right away when that elbow landed, I tried to stop the bleeding with my hands – but that’s part of it.”

The fight was close, with two judges giving Pantoja three rounds out of five while the third gave him four. He defeated Erceg via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46).

“I think I clearly won the first three rounds of the fight,” Pantoja said. “The fourth round could’ve been his. The fifth round was mine. I definitely think it was 4-1. That guy was very tough. It’s what we say. This is a guy from Australia, a guy that’s very tough, a guy that people didn’t really know, and he came in there to die. He was prepared to die. I think that’s what it’s all about when you fight for the championship.”

As for what’s next, Pantoja says vacation. He brushed off the mention of his shared record with “Mighty Mouse” and doesn’t view his legacy as being completely in the cage.

“Those are just stats,” Pantoja said. My legacy is at home. My legacy is with my kids. Numbers really don’t matter in this division. We saw the 10th-ranked guy against the champion. I always say it’s like two universes colliding. I’m here. I’m happy with my family and everything. He was over there crying. He had his wife. He had his dad. It’s a very tough sport. Nobody is happy ending up in second place in MMA.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 301.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie