UFC 301 takeaways: Alexandre Pantoja digs deep; José Aldo still reigns in Rio

Sometimes it makes a difference to have been there before. Just ask Alexandre Pantoja. At times in his flyweight title defense against Steve Erceg at UFC 301, he looked liked a man on the verge of being overwhelmed by the rising tide.

Then the champion collected himself, caught his breath, secured a takedown, and got back to winning the fight. He managed to do all this just enough, and at just the right times, to secure the unanimous decision victory in the main event.

That might sound like the basic requirements of a champion, but here it was indicative of how hard it is to stay on top in the most competitive UFC weight classes. Pantoja took on the No. 10-ranked fighter in his division, and still he had his hands full. It was only his savvy in the close rounds and down the stretch that made the difference, and only against an opponent still trying to figure out how to win close fights in front of an unfriendly crowd.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - MAY 04: (R-L) 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 via Getty Images)
Alexandre Pantoja was able to win a close decision to Steve Erceg at UFC 301 and retain his flyweight title. (Photo by Alexandre Loureiro/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Pantoja had to squint through the blood to get it done, but his experience made all the difference in a close fight. Maybe the real lesson was that, in the talent-rich weight classes south of 155 pounds, there’s no such thing as an easy night of work.

  • José Aldo is still that dude. What, just because he’s been technically retired and seems to be angling for a post-UFC boxing career, you thought he was done? Jonathan Martinez may have thought the same thing, to his detriment. In the UFC 301 main event, the “King of Rio” reminded us all how he got that crown, while also asserting a future for himself in a combat sports world that can’t quite get rid of him just yet.

  • Anthony Smith told us he wasn’t ready to be a stepping stone. He made clear that he intended to flip the narrative from the guy being built upon to the guy being built. Naturally, we couldn’t believe it until we saw it for ourselves. But with a first-round submission win over Vitor Petrino, he’s at least bought himself a little bit of breathing room.