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Jose Aldo of Brazil reacts after a bantamweight bout against Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia during UFC 278 at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg

Delivering An Inside Look At Every Matchup Set To Hit The Octagon On Saturday Night In Rio De Janeiro

Pay-per-view events in Rio de Janeiro have always delivered memorable moments.

There have been 10 previous instances where the UFC has brought an event of this type to the populous Brazilian city on the western shore of Guanabara Bay and each time, something special has transpired, including successful title defenses for legends like Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and Ronda Rousey, the championship ascents of Max Holloway, Jessica Andrade, and Jamahal Hill, and Edson Barboza’s iconic knockout win over Terry Etim.

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg

While there are never any guarantees when it comes to what is going to transpire in the Octagon, history suggests something special will happen this weekend at Farmasi Arena and the collection of athletes paired off to make the march into battle will surely be trying to deliver.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap this weekend at UFC 301.

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Main Event: Alexandre Pantoja vs Stephen Erceg

Location: Farmasi Arena — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Where to Watch: ESPN 2 / ESPN+

Other Main Card Matches:

  • Jonathan Martinez vs Jose Aldo
  • Anthony Smith vs Vitor Petrino
  • Michel Pereira vs Ihor Potieria
  • Paul Craig vs Caio Borralho

Prelim Matches:

  • Jack Shore vs Joanderson Brito
  • Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Iasmin Lucindo
  • Elves Brener vs Myktybek Orolbai
  • Jean Silva vs William Gomis
  • Joaquim Silva vs Drakkar Klose
  • Mauricio Ruffy vs Jamie Mullarkey
  • Dione Barbosa vs Ernesta Kareckaite
  • Ismael Bonfim vs Vinc Pichel
  • Alessandro Costa vs Kevin Borjas

Main Event Matchup: Alexandre Pantoja vs Stephen Erceg

Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil punches Brandon Moreno of Mexico in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil punches Brandon Moreno of Mexico in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The evening in Rio wraps with hometown champion Alexandre Pantoja returning to defend his flyweight title against streaking Australian contender Stephen Erceg.

Pantoja claimed the belt last July in a competitive, close battle with two-time champ Brandon Moreno, and successfully defended the title for the first time in December, out-wrestling Brandon Royval to retain his position atop the division and run his winning streak to five. The American Top Team product has always leaned heavily on his grappling, favoring positional dominance over inflicting damage while searching for submission openings that never materialized in his last two outings.

UFC 301 FREE FIGHTS: Pantoja vs Moreno 2 | Erceg vs Schnell 

Erceg forced his way into the rankings after his promotional debut, turning up in Vancouver and out-working Top 15 fixture David Dvorak in June. After getting the better of Alessandro Costa in November to extend his overall winning streak to double digits, “Astroboy” announced himself as a legitimate threat in the division with a second-round knockout win over Matt Schnell in March.

This is an outstanding pairing. Pantoja has dialled back his aggressiveness while committing more to his grappling in recent showings, but the challenger is a well-rounded talent that could very well push the champion to his limits on his home turf on Saturday evening.

Other Main Card Matchups

Jonathan Martinez vs Jose Aldo

Jose Aldo of Brazil stands in his corner while facing Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jose Aldo of Brazil stands in his corner while facing Merab Dvalishvili of Georgia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Ascending bantamweight Jonathan Martinez welcomes Jose Aldo back to the Octagon in the UFC 301 co-main event this weekend.

After losing his short-notice debut in Moncton, New Brunswick several years ago, Martinez has posted 10 wins in a dozen starts, and carries a six-fight winning streak into his most high profile pairing to date on Saturday. The Factory X Muay Thai product has punishing kicks, having felled Cub Swanson and Adrian Yanez with that particular weapon during his current run of success.

MORE UFC 301: Get To Know Steve Erceg | Get To Know Alexandre Pantoja

Aldo returns for the first time in 21 months, looking to get back in the win column after having his three-fight winning streak halted by Merab Dvalishvili in what was assumed to be his final UFC appearance. “The King of Rio” was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame last year, and comes back here seeking to score another victory in front of his hometown crowd, while halting Martinez’ march towards the top of the division.

Anthony Smith vs Vitor Petrino

Vitor Petrino of Brazil kicks Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Zuffa LLC)
Vitor Petrino of Brazil kicks Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium on November 04, 2023 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Zuffa LLC)

Former title challenger Anthony Smith faces off with surging Brazilian Vitor Petrino in this main card light heavyweight fixture.

Smith steps in for the first time since his third-round stoppage loss to Khalil Rountree Jr. last December, aiming to bust out of a 1-3 funk over his last four outings. The vastly experienced Nebraska native is 8-6 overall in the 205-pound ranks, and will look to use his veteran savvy to get things moving in the right direction again in his 2024 debut.

How To Watch UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg In Your Country

Petrino has wasted no time making his presence felt in the light heavyweight division. A member of the Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) Class of ’22, the 26-year-old posted four wins in his first 12 months on the roster, capped by a unanimous decision victory over Tyson Pedro in March that extended his record to 11-0 overall.

 Anthony Smith punches Ryan Spann in a light heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Zuffa LLC)
Anthony Smith punches Ryan Spann in a light heavyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Zuffa LLC)

This profiles as a classic “veteran versus prospect” battle and it will be fascinating to see if Smith is able to stem the tide and show he’s still a threat or if Petrino will maintain his momentum and register the biggest win of his career. Both men are capable of finishing in myriad ways, so expect a tense, aggressive battle for as long as it lasts.

Michel Pereira vs Ihor Potieria

Michel Pereira and Ihor Potieria clash in the second of Saturday’s two main card pairings in the middleweight division.

Pereira hasn’t missed a beat since moving to the 185-pound division, registering a pair of rapid stoppage wins over Andre Petroski and Michal Oleksiejczuk to push his winning streak to seven. The former welterweight remains quick, powerful, and somewhat unpredictable in his new surroundings, and could very well be a dark horse contender in the 185-pound weight class by the time the year is out.

Michel Pereira of Brazil kicks Andre Fialho of Portugal during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Michel Pereira of Brazil kicks Andre Fialho of Portugal during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Potieria attempted to move to middleweight for the first time in his most recent appearance, but missed the mark by a couple pounds ahead of his win over Robert Bryczek. The DWCS grad went 1-3 at light heavyweight before making the shift, and is the kind of confident striker that should be willing to test himself on the feet with the explosive Brazilian on Saturday.

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg

This one should have a little more interest from fans than some may anticipate as Potieria ventured to Rio last January and defeated Brazilian legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in his final UFC appearance. Expect the partisan crowd to be in full throat for this one, urging Pereira to avenge Rua and add to his winning streak.

Paul Craig vs Caio Borralho

Middleweights open the main card as Paul Craig faces off with streaking DWCS alum Caio Borralho.

After earning an impressive win in his divisional debut last summer in London, Craig ran into the Brendan Allen buzzsaw in November, losing by submission in the third round of their main event clash at the UFC APEX. The Scottish fighter continues to be a work in progress on the feet and his grappling acumen makes him a threat against just about anyone willing to engage with him on the canvas.

Caio Borralho of Brazil knees Michal Oleksiejczuk of Poland in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 29, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Caio Borralho of Brazil knees Michal Oleksiejczuk of Poland in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 29, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Borralho earned his place on the roster with a pair of wins on Season 5 of the annual talent search series and has maintained his winning ways since. The Fighting Nerds representative has gone 4-0 over his first two years in the UFC, arriving in Rio stationed at No. 14 in the rankings and eager to continue advancing.

Based on the higher profile names Craig has faced in the past, this profiles as the step up in competition Borralho’s early success merits, but it feels more like a battle to see which of these two men will maintain their place in the middleweight rankings. The division grows continually deeper with each passing month, and a setback for either here could cost them their place in the Top 15.

Preliminary Card Pairings

Jack Shore vs Joanderson Brito

The prelims wrap in the featherweight ranks, with Jack Shore taking on Joanderson Brito in what should be a competitive battle between ascending talents in the 145-pound weight class.

Jack Shore of Wales punches Timur Valiev of Russia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on March 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jack Shore of Wales punches Timur Valiev of Russia in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on March 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Shore rebounded from the first loss of his career by making the successful transition to featherweight last March with a second-round submission win over Makwan Amirkhani. Brito pushed his winning and finishing streak to four in November, collecting a second-round submission win of his own over Jonathan Pearce.

Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Iasmin Lucindo

Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Iasmin Lucindo meet in a battle of strawweights at opposite ends of the age and experience spectrum.

How To Watch UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg In Your Country

The 38-year-old Kowalkiewicz enters on a four-fight winning streak, the longest of her UFC career, most recently having out-hustled Diana Belbita in October. Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Lucindo has registered consecutive wins over Brogan Walker and Polyana Viana since dropping her promotional debut to Yasmin Jauregui in the summer of 2022.

Elves Brener vs Myktybek Orolbai

Elves Brener of Brazil reacts after his TKO victory over Guram Kutateladze of Georgia in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Elves Brener of Brazil reacts after his TKO victory over Guram Kutateladze of Georgia in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Elves Brener and Myktybek Orolbai square off in a fascinating lightweight contest on Saturday’s preliminary card.

Brener went 3-0 in his first year on the roster, punctuating his stellar rookie campaign with a first-round finish of fellow Brazilian in Sao Paulo in November. The 26-year-old Orolbai made the most of his short-notice call to the Octagon two weeks later, submitting Uros Medic up a division to extend his winning streak to seven.

Jean Silva vs William Gomis

Jean Silva seeks his second win of the year, while William Gomis looks for his fourth straight UFC triumph in this intriguing featherweight pairing.

William Gomis of France kicks Yanis Ghemmouri of France in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at The Accor Arena on September 02, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
William Gomis of France kicks Yanis Ghemmouri of France in a featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at The Accor Arena on September 02, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Silva dominated Westin Wilson in his January debut, securing a first-round finish to move his winning streak to nine and his record to 12-2 overall. France’s Gomis has quietly put together three straight wins to begin his time in the Octagon, most recently scoring a third-round stoppage win over Yanis Ghemmouri last fall in Paris.

Joaquim Silva vs Drakkar Klose

Veteran lightweight Joaquim Silva and Drakkar Klose will battle it out on the prelims this weekend, each looking to add to their recent successes.

Silva bested Clay Guida on the scorecards in Austin in December, while Klose slammed Joe Solecki into defeat a couple fights earlier in the evening. Both have a ton of experience in the Octagon and well-rounded skill sets, so expect a competitive affair between these two divisional stalwarts on Saturday night.

Mauricio Ruffy vs Jamie Mullarkey

Mauricio Ruffy makes his promotional debut at UFC 301, stepping in against Australian veteran Jamie Mullarkey.

Jamie Mullarkey of Australia punches John Makdessi of Canada in a lightweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Jamie Mullarkey of Australia punches John Makdessi of Canada in a lightweight fight during the UFC 293 event at Qudos Bank Arena on September 10, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Another member of the Fighting Nerds team, Ruffy claimed his place on the roster with a third-round stoppage win last fall on Dana White’s Contender Series. The 29-year-old Mullarkey has struggled to find consistent results throughout his UFC run, entering Saturday’s contest off a loss to Nasrat Haqparast and sporting a 5-5 mark inside the Octagon.

Dione Barbosa vs Ernesta Kareckaite

Newcomers and DWCS alums Dione Barbosa and Ernesta Kareckaite share the experience of coming to the biggest stage in the sport for the first time this weekend in Rio de Janeiro.

Barbosa earned her contract with a first-round submission win over Rainn Guerrero and holds an earlier win over ranked flyweight Karine Silva. The 25-year-old Kareckaite scored a decision win and a spot on the roster in her DWCS appearance last September, and touches down for her debut with a 5-0-1 mark overall.

Ismael Bonfim vs Vinc Pichel

Ismael Bonfim of Brazil punches Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Ismael Bonfim of Brazil punches Benoit Saint Denis of France in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Ismael Bonfim and Vinc Pichel clash in a battle of lightweights looking to rebound from setbacks in their most recent appearances.

Bonfim had a thrilling debut win last January in Rio, but landed on the wrong side of things against Benoit Saint Denis in his sophomore showing a little more than five months later. Pichel carried a three-fight winning streak into his bout with Mark Madsen at UFC 273, but was out-grappled by the Danish Olympian.

Alessandro Costa vs Kevin Borjas

Saturday’s action gets underway in the flyweight division as Alessandro Costa and Kevin Borjas seek their first win of 2024.

Costa has gone 1-2 in his first three UFC appearance, sandwiching a win over Jimmy Flick between his short-notice debut loss to contender Amir Albazi and a unanimous decision defeat to headliner Stephen Erceg last time out. After a strong showing in his contract-winning appearance on the most recent season of Dana White’s Contender Series, Borjas started well, but faltered over the second half of his debut loss to surging prospect Joshua Van.

Order UFC 301: Pantoja vs Hill

UFC 301: Pantoja vs Erceg took place live from Farmasi Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 4, 2024. See the Final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!