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Alexandre Pantoja of Brazil waits for the start of a round in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 296 event at T-Mobile Arena on December 16, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Fight Coverage

The Flyweight Title Picture Comes Into Focus For The Next Month

With The Belt Up For Grabs At UFC 301, The Flyweight Division Goes Into The Spotlight As Summer Nears

The flyweight division goes into the spotlight as the calendar creeps toward summer with several crucial and interesting matchups filling out the next few weeks. With both the days of Demetrious Johnson’s dominant reign and the tetralogy between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo now in the past, the 125-pound title picture has perhaps never been more wide-open and interesting.

At present, Alexandre Pantoja is carving out a good title reign, having defended his belt once against Brandon Royval after he wrested the title from Brandon Moreno in 2023. He also holds multiple wins over most of the Top 10 contenders, which means one big, statement-making victory could catapult someone into contention as it did for Steve Erceg. “Astroboy” made his UFC debut in June 2023, collecting wins over David Dvorak, Alessandro Costa and Matt Schnell, along with two performance bonuses over a nine-month period. 

Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Nicolau vs Perez

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Erceg is certainly on a fast track, and the fact that this fight was made speaks to both his excellence thus far, as well as Pantoja’s own record. The bout is Pantoja’s first in Brazil under the UFC banner, so it certainly carries even more weight than your run-of-the-mill title defense. He and Erceg are also the first men’s flyweights to headline a pay-per-view since Figueiredo and Moreno did it more than three years ago at UFC 256, which became a late Fight of the Year candidate and the first of their saga. 

Steve Erceg of Australia punches Alessandro Costa of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Steve Erceg of Australia punches Alessandro Costa of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC 295 event at Madison Square Garden on November 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Before those two compete for gold, however, a pair of hopeful contenders duke it out for five scheduled rounds in the UFC APEX. Matheus Nicolau gets his first five-round opportunity opposite former title challenger and Dana White’s Contender Series alumnus Alex Perez on April 27.

UFC 301: Steve Erceg Wants To Open Eyes | Get To Know Alexandre Pantoja

Nicolau is coming off a knockout loss to Brandon Royval, just his second defeat since returning to the promotion in March 2021. Before that, he picked up wins over Schnell, Dvorak, Tim Elliott and Manel Kape. A rematch with Kape was the original plan for UFC’s first fight night following UFC 300, but when Kape withdrew, Perez was tapped to replace him. The 32-year-old Perez has competed against some of the toughest names in the division for the last six-plus years and is hoping to come back into form after struggling with injuries for the last few years. 

Two more intriguing matchups go down in May that might have impact on how the division plays out on the peripheries of the title picture for the next year. First comes an intriguing matchup with Charles Johnson and Jake Hadley on May 11 in St. Louis. Johnson is coming off a bounce-back win over Azat Maksum in February and hopes to build some momentum after keeping a busy schedule for his first couple of years on the roster. On the other side, Hadley is hoping to get back into the winner’s circle and find some consistency as he split his first four UFC bouts. While both men are outside of the Top 15, they share aspirations and potential to crack the Top 15 at some point this year if they string together a good account of wins. 

Tatsuro Taira of Japan reacts after his knockout victory against Carlos Hernandez in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Tatsuro Taira of Japan reacts after his knockout victory against Carlos Hernandez in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

A week after that, UFC fans get another look at one of the top young prospects in the sport in Tatsuro Taira. The Okinawan-born 24-year-old boasts a 15-0 record with his last five wins coming in the Octagon, including three finishes and two performance bonuses. His progression up the flyweight ladder was a steady one, and he hopes to continue that rise next month. 

Main Event Spotlight | UFC Fight Night: Nicolau vs Perez

While the previously mentioned athletes seem a bit further off the pace for a title shot, Erceg’s shot shows the kind of role timing and circumstances can play along with high success in the Octagon. Few divisions boast the kind of high-level, well-rounded fighters up and down its roster like flyweight, and those traits will come to the forefront over the next few weeks. 

Get Ten Dollars Off UFC 301: Pantoja vs Hill