Alexandre Pantoja is officially a titleholder…
After five hard-fought rounds, the 33-year-old Brazilian professional mixed martial artist (26-5) claimed Brandon Moreno‘s 125-pound championship, as he narrowly edged the defending champion via split decision in the co-main event of UFC 290 inside T-Mobile Arena.
UFC president Dana White said afterward that Moreno suffered a broken hand in the first round.
Saturday’s bout officially marked Pantoja’s second win over Moreno (21-7-2), although it’s really his third.
Pantoja submitted Moreno in a bout on The Ultimate Fighter reality show in 2016, but that result didn’t count toward their professional records as it took place as part of the show. They fought again in 2018, with Pantoja claiming a unanimous decision.
Saturday’s contest was the closest and most skilled to date.
“Moreno evolved so much,” Pantoja said. “I don’t expect a tough guy like that tonight, but I worked so hard for this. The last two years, I worked so hard, bringing my family to the U.S. [from Brazil] and my camp to American Top Team. … Guys, if you know my story, you’re gonna love me. I’ve worked so hard for that.”
The final numbers of the fight reflected just how close it was. According to UFC Stats, Moreno slightly outlanded Pantoja 167-161 in total strikes. Pantoja did better work on the ground, however. He took Moreno’s back multiple times and racked up more than eight minutes of control time. Moreno proved to be very tricky to hold down, but Pantoja maintained slightly dominant positions in crucial moments, which might have proved key on the scorecards.
Pantoja also dropped Moreno in the opening round with a nasty left hook. Moreno, 29, recovered quickly and never appeared close to going out, but Pantoja hurt him again with another left hook later in the round. Moreno roared back in the second round behind arguably one of the best jabs in MMA. He doubled and tripled up the jab on Pantoja, occasionally ripping in left hooks to the body and head.
Moreno’s shots bloodied Pantoja’s forehead and nose by the third round, but Pantoja’s takedowns, work in the clinch and body shots of his own all made for strong answers to Moreno’s offense. The pace of the fight finally slowed a little in the fourth and fifth rounds when Pantoja worked his way into threatening grappling positions and Moreno was forced into a bit of caution.
The victory snaps a two-fight streak in title fights for Moreno, who is from Tijuana, Mexico.
Earlier this year, he closed out a very rare four-fight rivalry against another Brazilian in Deiveson Figueiredo. Moreno unified the flyweight belt by finishing Figueiredo in the third round of their final meeting in January, but now surrenders the belt in his first attempted defense.