Brandon Royval got a second crack at Alexandre Pantoja in the co-main event of UFC 296 on Saturday.
More important, Royval got his first crack at UFC gold, with Pantoja having dethroned Brandon Moreno earlier this year.
The final UFC event of 2023 had been a smashing success from top to bottom, and Pantoja-Royval looked to continue that. Challenger “Raw Dawg” had not lost a fight since his first meeting with Pantoja in 2021.
Alexandre Pantoja came right out on the attack to star the flyweight title fight, but Royval was able to escape, and defend a takedown. Pantoja did land a leg kick, and later a right hand before tying things up again. Some big kicks to the body by the champ landed with a thud, and roughly two minutes in, Pantoja finally landed a takedown.
From there. Pantoja moved to half guard, and was looking to pass. Royval managed to push him off, threatening with upkicks in the process. They’d hit a stalemate for a bit, Royval firing up kicks, Pantoja coming in and backing off. He could finally settle back into half guard, with Royval only pushing him off and scrambling up in the final 30 seconds. They’d finish the round on the feet, with a Pantoja leg kick landing just prior to the horn.
Round two found Royval working his jab, and looking to land a knee — but Pantoja took that opportunity to land a takedown, Royval essentially having closed the distance for him. Pantoja again wound up in half guard, looking to set up an arm-triangle choke and step over. While the choke wasn’t there, Pantoja was eating up tons of top time, with Brandon Royval lacking any answer off his back. When the ref urged them to work, Pantoja opened up with some ground strikes, but that allowed Royval to scramble back to his feet. Worse, off his next attack, a telegraphed head kick, Royval was taken down by the champ once again.
Brandon Royval opened the third with a takedown attempt of his own that he couldn’t complete. That wasn’t an issue for Alexandre Pantoja a moment later, however. This time, Royval reversed, but the champ scrambled out in a flash. The third turned into another strong round for the champ, though Royval would catch him with a knee later in the frame. In response to Royval getting a bit of momentum, however, Pantoja landed another big takedown, and was immediately working to improve his position.
Round four, and it was Royval taken down once again inside of a minute. So far, the challenger’s offense had been minimal, and Alexandre Pantoja had dominated with his wrestling/grappling. A slick transition with a spin allowed Pantoja to take the back; he quickly had a body triangle in place. Royval was warned for having his toes in the fence, and responded by wall walking over to the opposite side — only for Pantoja to hold on to the body lock.
Royval threatened to turn into the choke and get on top momentarily, but Pantoja was able to hold the position. He would reverse right at the end of the frame, getting on top and trying to land ground n’ pound, only for the champ to grab a leg, looking for a kneebar.
The final round had Brandon Royval in need of a Hail Mary. He certainly gave it his all to start the round, connecting several times on the champ, who had visibly slowed. Pantoja clinched up, but Royval pulled free. Royval landed three unanswered jabs, but Pantoja was still firing back, albeit at a lesser pace. A desperation takedown by Pantoja landed, but Royval made it back up— only for Pantoja to land a second attempt.
Despite a strong start to the round, Royval couldn’t find the finish he so desperately needed, giving Alexnadre Pantoja the first title defense of his flyweight reign.
Official Result: Alexandre Pantoja def. Brandon Royval by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 49-46)