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Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil reacts after his victory against Steve Erceg of Australia in a UFC flyweight championship bout during the UFC 301 event at Farmasi Arena on May 04, 2024 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Zuffa LLC)
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Where We Stand: Flyweight Division | May 2024

Alexandre Pantoja Defended Home Turf As Well As The Title, And He Still Has More Than A Few Contenders At The Ready

With the Brazilian crowd backing him, Alexandre Pantoja earned another hard-fought defense of his flyweight title over Steve Erceg. The fight was as gritty as any Pantoja title fight, and the decision win further cemented his growing championship legacy.

Flyweight, as saturated as it is with contenders, sits in a bit of a convoluted state at present, which is ironic considering the stability Pantoja has brought to the throne itself. That said, Pantoja isn’t left wanting for challengers as he chases Demetrious Johnson’s title defense streak. This is where we stand in the flyweight division:

Champion: Alexandre Pantoja

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Steve Erceg (5/4/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil punches Steve Erceg of Australia in a UFC flyweight championship bout during the UFC 301 event at Farmasi Arena on May 04, 2024 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Zuffa LLC)
Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil punches Steve Erceg of Australia in a UFC flyweight championship bout during the UFC 301 event at Farmasi Arena on May 04, 2024 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: “The Cannibal” reached deep into his championship reserves to put a stamp on his second consecutive title defense and first UFC bout in Brazil. The effort has become sort of a signature trait in Pantoja’s title fights. The 34-year-old consistently displays well-roundedness in his championship bouts, as well as an elite ability to execute fight-winning moments even when it appears that his gas tank is dwindling. Pantoja’s ability to win small moments over a 25-minute fight makes him a tough out, especially when he is defending the belt. After winning three title fights over the span of 10 months, Pantoja expressed his desire to take a little break to enjoy the spoils of his accomplishments, which is totally understanding. That time can also serve as a chance for his next contender to make themselves known. Muhammad Mokaev and Amir Albazi are a pair of fresh faces who have a chance to earn a title shot, but former foes Brandon Royval and Manel Kape also hold reason to believe they’ve done enough to earn a shot sooner rather than later, as well. 

1) Brandon Royval

Last Fight: Split Decision Win vs Brandon Moreno (2/24/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Brandon Royval punches Brandon Moreno of Mexico in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Arena CDMX on February 24, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Brandon Royval punches Brandon Moreno of Mexico in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Arena CDMX on February 24, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Royval was clearly disappointed with his effort in his title shot against Pantoja. There are few better ways, however, to put yourself back on track than going to enemy territory and beating a top contender, which is exactly what he did when he stepped in on short notice to take out Brandon Moreno in Mexico City. Royval is in a tricky spot, having lost to Pantoja twice already, so he might need to take out another top contender like Kape, Albazi or Perez before getting a second crack at gold.

2) Brandon Moreno

Last Fight: Split Decision Loss vs Brandon Royval (2/24/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Brandon Moreno of Mexico reacts after his victory over Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 283 event at Jeunesse Arena on January 21, 2023 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)
Brandon Moreno of Mexico reacts after his victory over Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 283 event at Jeunesse Arena on January 21, 2023 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: “The Assassin Baby” more or less carried the flyweight title picture on his shoulders for the better part of the last three-and-a-half years, so it only made sense when Moreno announced the need for a hiatus from competition following his loss to Royval in Mexico. Seven five-round fights, all of which were high-stakes and emotionally charged, would exhaust any fighter, so the 30-year-old Moreno doing so is understandable. When he decides to come back to competition, his next moves will strictly depend on the picture of things at that moment. He remains perhaps the signature name in the division, though, so he won’t be too far from regaining his title if he can put together a couple wins.

3) Amir Albazi

Last Fight: Split Decision Win vs Kai Kara-France (6/3/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Amir Albazi of Iraq reacts after his victory against Kai Kara-France of New Zealand in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 03, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Amir Albazi of Iraq reacts after his victory against Kai Kara-France of New Zealand in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 03, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Albazi had a chance to secure a shot at the title when he booked a fight against Moreno in Mexico, but that all went away when an injury forced him out of the matchup. Albazi might have been in with a shout after beating Kai Kara-France in a main event, but that momentum has somewhat evaporated in the following months. Still, the 30-year-old is an undefeated 5-0 in the Octagon, and a win over another Top 5 contender could push him over the edge. Fights against Perez, Royval and Kape all make sense for Albazi if he isn’t tapped as Pantoja’s next opponent.

4) Kai Kara-France

Last Fight: Split Decision Loss vs Amir Albazi (6/3/2023)

Next fight: N/A

Kai Kara-France of New Zealand punches Brandon Moreno of Mexico in the interim UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Kai Kara-France of New Zealand punches Brandon Moreno of Mexico in the interim UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: “Don’t Blink” is on a bit of a streak of sour luck since losing his interim title fight to Moreno in July 2022. His split decision loss to Albazi was razor-close and argued about, and injury prevented him from a chance to get back to the good. That said, he remains in the thick of the title picture. He expressed the desire to book another fight with Kape when UFC goes to Perth for UFC 305, although it is unsure if the interest is mutual after their fight fell apart in 2023. Regardless, Kara-France is due for a crucial fight next time out.

5) Alex Perez

Last Fight: KO Win vs Matheus Nicolau (4/27/2024)

Next fight: N/A

Alex Perez reacts after his knockout victory against Matheus Nicolau of Brazil in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 27, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alex Perez reacts after his knockout victory against Matheus Nicolau of Brazil in a flyweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 27, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Outlook: Few fighters have earned a more needed win in 2024 than Perez’s knockout of Matheus Nicolau in April 2024. The former title challenger definitively snapped his three-fight losing streak to cement his spot in the flyweight elite. On the balance, losing to Deiveson Figueiredo, Pantoja and Mokaev isn’t exactly anything to hang one’s head about, but Perez certainly exorcised some demons with his win over Nicolau. He’s certainly further from a title shot than the rest of the Top 5, but he is back in the mix and due for an important fight next.

In the Mix: Manel Kape, Muhammad Mokaev, Steve Erceg

Outlook: Mokaev is on the precipice of contention after taking out Perez in March 2024. The unbeaten 22-year-old phenom has had a steady climb up the flyweight rankings and was a little taken aback when Erceg earned the title shot over him. That said, Mokaev is right on the edge of a title shot if he can get a big win over someone in the Top 5 the next time he fights.

Kape continues to have a mix of bad luck and poor timing with his career thus far. Injuries to himself and his opponents have limited the 30-year-old’s momentum as he climbed the rankings, but four wins on the bounce have him playing a major factor in the title picture. He lost a big opportunity when he pulled out of his main event with Nicolau, but Kape and Kara-France have unresolved business, so he could put himself back into contention with a win over the Kiwi.

Erceg, who hadn’t made his UFC debut this time last year, showed he was every bit a worthy title challenger when he pushed Pantoja to the brink in Brazil. The 27-year-old gave himself a fighting chance in his fourth UFC fight, and he figures to play a major role in the flyweight title picture for many years to come. On his bright side, he hasn’t faced many of his peers in the Top 10, so he could rebuild his case for a second shot soon.