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UFC 301: Pantoja v Erceg Predictions

Brazil’s own Alexandre Pantoja defends his flyweight title against a dark horse from Down Under in Steve Erceg in the main event of UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.


Brazil’s own Alexandre Pantoja defends his flyweight title against a dark horse from Down Under in Steve Erceg in the main event of UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The co-main event at the Jeunesse Arena will see Brazilian icon Jose Aldo come out of retirement to battle bantamweight contender Jonathan Martinez, while former light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith squares off against the unbeaten Vitor Petrino in the featured bout.

Plus, two Brazilian middleweight contenders will also showcase their skills on the main card in Michel Pereira, who takes on Ihor Potieria, and Caio Borralho, who collides with Paul Craig.

MAIN CARD (from 5 AM Sunday SA time):

Alexandre Pantoja (1.52) v Steve Erceg (2.60) (Flyweight Championship)

Having risen through the ranks to become the undisputed flyweight champion of the world and having defended his belt against Brandon Royval in December, Pantoja (27-5) will realise another dream by returning home as champion to compete in front of his countrymen and women.

He’ll have to be on his guard, however, if he wants to avoid it turning into a nightmare. Erceg (12-1) is the type of opponent that can prove to be a banana peel one can slip on if you’re not careful, not because he’s overly dangerous but rather because he’s a relatively unknown fighter less than a year into his UFC career.

The Australian has won all three of his fights inside the Octagon to date, but the competition he’s faced – David Dvorak, Alessandro Costa and Matt Schnell – with respect, is by no means worthy of warranting him a title shot. Sometimes, timing is everything and with no bigger names available to challenge Pantoja, lady luck has smiled on Erceg, who looks to shock the world.

So, what’s the 27-year-old all about? He’s mainly a grappler with six submissions to his name. Yes, he’s riding an 11-fight win streak, but again, just three of those came in the UFC and none were over members of the 125-pound elite.

He has solid striking but nothing on the level of Brandon Moreno, who Pantoja beat for the title, or Royval. Exceptionally well-rounded, Pantoja is simply superior in all aspects of MMA and has the high-level experience his challenger lacks.

Therefore, the champion is a lock to retain the gold and will most likely do so by decision.

Prediction: Pantoja by decision.

Best Bet: Pantoja at 1.52.

Alternative Bet: Pantoja by decision at 3.00.

Jonathan Martinez (1.64) v Jose Aldo (2.30) (Bantamweight)

An icon of the sport with a god-like status in Brazil, Aldo (31-8) comes out of retirement to compete in the co-main event.

The Hall of Famer and former long-time featherweight champion called time on his career in 2022 but an opportunity to fight on home soil sees him return at the age of 37. He hasn’t just been sitting on the couch the last two years; he’s turned to boxing, but it’s tough to know what shape he’ll be in.

Martinez (19-4) has an unforeseen opportunity of a lifetime to claim a legendary scalp. He’s won 10 of his 13 UFC bouts and is on a six-fight win streak, most recently defeating Adrian Yanez by second-round TKO last October.

Both men are well-rounded but this promises to be a striking battle. Aldo was one of the punishing pioneers of leg kicks and it happens to be one of Martinez’s best weapons as well. Seven years younger than his decorated foe, Martinez is in his prime and will have a speed advantage.

He’s a more active striker as well, so I expect him to outpoint Aldo after 15 solid minutes of action.

Prediction: Martinez by decision.

Best Bet: Martinez by decision at 2.40.

Alternative Bet: Martinez at 1.64.

Anthony Smith (5.10) v Vitor Petrino (1.18) (Light Heavyweight)

The spotlight shines on Brazilian prospect Petrino in the featured bout as he looks to break into the top 10 at 205 pounds.

The 26-year-old boasts a perfect record of 11-0 with seven knockouts and a submission. He’s rattled off four wins inside the Octagon, the most recent of which saw him outwork Tyson Pedro in March.

Smith (37-19) is a former title challenger who finds himself in a slump. His stoppage loss to Khalil Rountree Jr. last December took his recent record to 1-3 and he’s in danger of regressing from a contender to a gatekeeper.

With 20 knockouts and 14 submissions to his name, “Lionheart” is a well-rounded finisher but at 35, his best years are behind him, and he’s had to rely on his veteran savviness more and more.

As tough as Smith is, Petrino’s exuberance and explosiveness leave him poised to pick up the biggest win of his career in style

Prediction: Petrino by knockout.

Best Bet: Petrino by KO/TKO/DQ at 2.00.

Alternative Bet: Under 2.5 rounds at 1.64.

Michel Pereira (1.16) v Ihor Potieria (5.55) (Middleweight)

A surging Pereira (30-11) was originally set to square off against Makhmud Muradov but with the latter forced to withdraw due to injury, he’ll face Potieria (21-5) instead.

After making a name for himself as a wild showman in the early stages of his UFC career, Pereira learned the craziness will only take him so far in the world’s premier MMA promotion.

“Demolidor” remains as dynamic as ever and by cutting out the recklessness, he’s strung together an impressive seven-fight win streak. Despite his success at welterweight, he opted to move up to middleweight last year and has looked better than ever in his new weight class, claiming back-to-back first-round finishes.

That Potieria comes in on less than a month’s notice makes an already tough task that much more challenging. It’s a bold act of self-belief by the Ukrainian, who’s 2-3 in the UFC with all three of those losses being by knockout.

“Duellist” is not afraid to throw down and has solid power and history in Rio, where he knocked out the legendary Shogun Rua in the former light heavyweight champion’s retirement fight last January, something the Brazilian fans haven’t forgotten.

Potieria attempted to move to middleweight for the first time in his last fight, missing the mark by a couple of pounds ahead of his decision win over Robert Bryczek in February, so his first battle will be on the scale where his short-notice entry again complicates matters.

Against a fast, in-form predator like Pereira, a Potieria who hasn’t had a full camp is somewhat of a sitting duck who’s set to be cooked, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Prediction: Pereira by knockout.

Best Bet: Pereira by KO/TKO/DQ at 1.68.

Alternative Bet: Under 1.5 rounds at 1.68.

Paul Craig (5.25) v Caio Borralho (1.17) (Middleweight)

No.13 meets No.14 in the middleweight main card opener.

Craig (17-7-1) is one of the last remaining out-and-out specialists in modern MMA. A submission artist through and through, “Bearjew” puts all of his energy into taking the fight to the ground, complete with pulling guard, and has a solid track record with 13 of his wins coming by tapout.

In recent years, however, the Scot’s one-dimensional style hasn’t cut it. He’s 1-3 in his last four fights and is coming off a submission loss to Brendan Allen in their main event meeting last November.

Borralho (15-1) is on the opposite side of the momentum meter. Living up to his nickname, “The Natural” is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC and in the bigger scheme of things, he hasn’t lost since dropping his second pro career outing back in 2015.

Though he looks like a killer, he’s not the most exciting fighter around but a pace-pushing opponent like Paul will force him out of his shell. He has a clear advantage on the feet and good top control, which should see him get off offensively and stay safe on the ground to get his hand raised.

Prediction: Borralho by decision.

Best Bet: Borralho by decision at 2.75.

Alternative Bet: Fight to go the distance at 2.40.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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