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Alexandre Pantoja vs. Steve Erceg flyweight title bout set for UFC 301

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UFC 301 finally has a title fight and it should make the home crowd in Brazil happy.

The organization announced Friday that men’s flyweight champion Alexandre Pantoja will put his belt on the line against streaking Australian Steve Erceg at the May 4 pay-per-view event in Rio de Janeiro.

Pantoja has won five fights in a row and is coming off his first title defence when he earned a unanimous decision win over Brandon Royval at UFC 296 in December. The 33-year-old became champion last July when he defeated Brandon Moreno via split decision at UFC 290. Pantoja has never fought in his native Brazil during his UFC career and hasn’t competed in the country since 2013.

“That’s my town and I’m gonna give my best for my public. I’m gonna bring my mom to the arena,” Pantoja recently told Sportsnet’s Aaron Bronsteter at UFC 299 while the UFC was still in the process of finding his next opponent and he was hopeful it would be at UFC 301.

Pantoja said of Erceg: “That guy from Australia, he’s really good,” when listing possible opponents two weeks ago. He added, somewhat prophetically: “I knocked Matt Schnell out in the first round; he did that in the second. Maybe it’s a good option for the UFC too.”

Erceg has not lost since his second pro bout back in 2017 and is enjoying an impressive 11-fight winning streak, including a 3-0 run in the UFC.

The 28-year-old recently earned a spot in the top 10 at 125 pounds with a highlight walk-off knockout of Matt Schnell at a UFC Fight Night two weeks prior to this announcement. The perfect left hook earned him a performance bonus and ultimately a title shot.

There are several other flyweights ranked above Erceg coming off wins that were potential options for the UFC to book into a title fight at UFC 301. However, considering Pantoja has a recent win over Royval, Manel Kape and Matheus Nicolau are set to meet in an upcoming rematch, and with undefeated Muhammad Mokaev coming off a not-so-emphatic win over Alex Perez this month, Erceg stood out and was given a chance to win UFC gold.

The last numbered UFC event held in Brazil was UFC 283 in January 2023. The flyweight title was also on the line that night as Brandon Moreno unified the titles and cemented his rivalry with Deiveson Figueiredo.

The UFC did not specify that Pantoja vs. Erceg would serve as the main event, however that is expected to be the case.

Here’s a look at the UFC 301 matchups officially announced so far: 

— Alexandre Pantoja vs. Steve Erceg

— Michel Pereira vs. Makhmud Muradov

— Anthony Smith vs. Vitor Petrino

— Jack Shore vs. Joanderson Brito

— Paul Craig vs. Caio Borralho

— Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs. Iasmin Lucindo

— Joaquim Silva vs. Drakkar Klose 

— Jean Silva vs. William Gomis

— Elves Brener vs. Myktybek Orolbai

— Alessandro Costa vs. Kevin Borjas

— Dione Barbosa vs. Ernesta Kareckaite

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