With all the fanfare over former RIZIN champ Manel Kape’s arrival in the UFC this weekend, it’s easy to forget just how dangerous Alexandre Pantoja is. The Brazilian has finishes in his last three wins, and two post-fight bonuses in his last three fights. A tough first test for the debuting Kape.
The pair clash as part of UFC Vegas 18, after an earlier date, in December, fell through. That, after Pantoja contracted COVID-19, and struggled to get over the disease that has swept the globe.
“In November I [got] COVID and [was] still out of the gym like three weeks, and went back to training,” Pantoja recalled, speaking to Cageside Press at a virtual media day this week. When he did go back to the gym, he continued, he was “feeling real bad. And questioned the UFC whether [they] could remake the fight. And that’s it. I had more time for recovery. And now I’m feeling 100%.”
When the initial symptoms of COVID-19 set in, at first, Pantoja “thought it was over-training, but after three days I felt the same. Felt like a fever, and I took the test and see. Still, two weeks, real bad. One day I feel better, another day I feel bad again.” Pantoja reported that he lost his sense of taste and smell. When he did go back to the gym, things were still off. “My first training, I’m feeling real bad. [I couldn’t] finish my training. I needed two [more] weeks to complete my recovery.” In total, it was “six bad weeks” for Pantoja to get back to normal.
Finally fully recovered, Pantoja returns against the much-hyped Kape in yet another tantalizing flyweight match-up. The division has been red-hot over the past year, and Pantoja has at least had the benefit of having some extra time to watch his opponent. Or so you might think.
“I don’t watch a lot [of] my opponent. I’m focused on my game,” Pantoja stated. “I know he’s a striker, he’s young, he has a lot of power in his hands. But that’s it. I don’t need to see all the fights, I just focus on my game. I have a good game, I can strike with everyone in my division. I can grapple. I’ve never suffered a finish. I’m focused on my game.”
Alexandre Pantoja faces Manel Kape at UFC Vegas 18 on Saturday, February 6 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main card airs live on ESPN+ (TSN in Canada).