Brandon Moreno vs. Alexandre Pantoja 3 (UFC 290)
The Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja story, one of MMA's best, dates back to the Ultimate Fighter Tournament of Champions in 2016 when the UFC had no contenders for long-time champion, Demetrious Johnson.
Moreno and Pantoja fought in the round of 16 with Pantoja securing a second-round submission. Fast forward to May 2018, Pantoja replaced Ray Borg to fight Moreno for a second time and won via unanimous decision. Moreno was cut by the UFC after this fight.
It seems Moreno and Pantoja were on a collision course from the very start. Despite beating him twice, Pantoja had to spend time watching Moreno compete as the champion. In terms of motivation, does it get any better than that? Pantoja beat Manel Kape, Brandon Royval, and Alex Perez to set up a third showdown and second UFC fight with Moreno, but this time, for the UFC flyweight title.
Similar to their previous fights, Moreno and Pantoja went toe-to-toe. While Moreno's boxing was landing, Pantoja was able to eat shots and push forward. Pantoja's unorthodox striking style proves to be accurate against most fighters. One of the most important championship qualities is timing, and Pantoja proved to be on point.
Moreno was out-striking Pantoja in four of the five rounds, but Pantoja's shots look heavier, especially on the counter, and his grappling and his ability to take his opponents back is simply elite. Pantoja picked it up in the final three rounds, securing six of eight takedowns with over seven minutes of control time. Throughout the fight, Moreno and Pantoja combined for 519 significant strikes thrown, eight of 15 takedown attempts, and over 12 minutes of control time with Moreno landing three reversals on the ground. The exertion, excitement, and exhaustion cannot be overstated.
Going back to the original notion of untrustworthy judging, Pantoja won the fight via split decision, with one judge scoring it 49-46 Moreno. While there is some evidence to suggest that the striking side of the fight could favor Moreno, it goes back to the idea that grappling and control time is decreasing in value for some judges.
It would have been absolutely criminal if Pantoja lost that fight, but luckily two of the three judges scored it 48-47 for Pantoja. Pantoja not only secured the UFC flyweight title but beat the previous champion for the third time. Pantoja ends 2023 at the top of the UFC flyweight mountain after already defending it against Royval. Incredible.