Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card from UFC Apex in Las Vegas is headlined by middleweights Jared Cannonier and Kelvin Gastelum. And that fight is fine as the nominal main event.
But the “people’s main event” — the one a lot of the hardcore MMA fans just know is going to be fire in the octagon — is a flyweight showdown with potential title implications between Brandon Royval and Alexandre Pantoja.
Royval (12-5, 11 finishes) couldn’t agree more, and he’s feeling slighted that his bout isn’t even the co-headliner of the evening, instead slotted early in the six-bout main card.
“I honestly feel a little bit disrespected by it all,” Royval recently told The Post, “because I think we should be the co-main event of the [night] at the very least.”
Using the UFC’s promotional contender rankings to back it up — he’s ranked No. 6, three slots behind Pantoja (23-5, 16 finishes) — Royval knows the winner of the bout could be next in line to face champion Brandon Moreno.
Royval isn’t concerned about the result of his most recent outing holding him back, despite it being a TKO loss to Moreno last November in one of the wildest one-round fights of 2020. It was during that fight that Royval suffered a torn labrum that came with what he referred to as “a bunch of chipped bones,” dislocating the shoulder during the windup of a punch, similar to a baseball pitcher going down with the same injury.
That kept the typically active Royval on the shelf longer than usual. The Pantoja fight is just about the earliest he could have come back after shoulder surgery. And Moreno has mentioned in media appearances that the winner of Saturday’s fight could be his first title challenger, which is in no way lost on Royval.
“I think he knows the significance of this fight is I’m fighting No. 3 in the world, [who] holds two wins over the current champion,” Royval says of Moreno, who was submitted in 2016 by Pantoja on “The Ultimate Fighter” and later lost a decision in the 2018 rematch. “I think he knows, one, the danger of Pantoja, obviously. He’s been unsuccessful fighting him twice. And then also, if I go out there and run a number on Pantoja, that undoubtedly, in my opinion, gives me the title shot.”
If it sounds like Royval is in a hurry to reach the top, especially since he only made his UFC debut 15 months ago, that’s just the way he rolls. In the cage, he’s a fast and furious flyweight who won four consecutive fights between 2019 and 2020 via submission. Four of his 12 career victories have come inside of a minute.
Plus, Royval doesn’t expect he’ll be competing in the sport a whole lot longer. It’s not necessarily age; he turned 29 earlier this month. But the miles MMA has put on his body already are wearing on him.
“I want to get the belt. I want to prove I’m the best flyweight at the period of time that I’m here,” Royval says. “But I put a lot into this sport. I love this sport, and it’s like, this sport’s done a number on my body. … I want to see my teammates succeed. I have a bunch of flyweights up-and-coming that I work with. I want them to take over. I want that next generation to succeed.”
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