mma

UFC 301 Preview: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Steve Erceg

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Alexandre Pantoja and Steve Erceg will headline UFC 301 in a fight for the flyweight world championship.

RIO DE JANEIRO — This Saturday the UFC will return to Rio de Janeiro for UFC 301.

Headlining the card will be Brazilian UFC Flyweight Champion, Alexandre Pantoja, who makes his second title defense on home turf against Australian newcomer, Steve Erceg. Pantoja currently sits as the -192 betting favorite, with Erceg as a +160 underdog.

Pantoja faces a surprising opponent in Erceg, who after securing an electrifying left-hook knockout against Matt Schnell in March will be challenging for the flyweight title in just his fourth UFC bout. Currently ranked #10 in the flyweight division, Erceg has the opportunity to make history as the lowest-ranked fighter to win gold since the UFC first introduced division rankings in 2013. However, this opportunity comes as no small task, with champion Alexandre Pantoja having lapped some of the top contenders of the division multiple times throughout his seven-year UFC career.

Over the past year, the UFC has seen several underdog challengers get their hand raised in championship fights, including former Middleweight Champion, Sean Strickland, and current BMF Champion, Max Holloway. So although not the betting favorite, Steve Erceg should by no means be counted out in his first championship bout. If he can overcome the well-rounded ability of Pantoja, as well as the mental challenge of stepping into enemy territory, many MMA fans feel this matchup has the potential for “upset” to be written all over it.

Steve Erceg, Courtesy Zuffa LLC

In the co-main event, former Featherweight Champion and 2023 UFC Hall of Fame inductee, José Aldo, comes out of retirement to face #12 ranked bantamweight, Jonathan Martinez. Although having announced his retirement from the UFC less than two full years ago, “The King of Rio” has not been inactive during his time away from the octagon, having claimed three wins across exhibition and professional boxing bouts — including a win over former UFC featherweight, Jeremy Stephens. Having now scratched the itch of professional boxing — a calling that he had for years been interested in — Aldo feels ready to return to the octagon and feels that his home city of Rio de Janeiro is the perfect place to do so.

“Rio is where I got my start. It’s where I live, it’s where I train, it’s where my friends are. So, obviously, very meaningful to be fighting here.”

“The King of Rio” has a tall order in front of him in opponent Jonathan Martinez who boasts a six-fight win streak, including knockout wins over Adrian Yanez and UFC veteran, Cub Swanson. Their fight odds open with Martinez as the -155 betting favorite, and Aldo as a +130 underdog.

Other fights featured on the main card will include bouts between middleweights Paul Craig and Caio Borralho, middleweights Michel Pereira and Ihor Poteria, and light heavyweights Anthony Smith and Vitor Petrino.

The main card is set to begin at 7 pm PST / 10 pm EST, on Saturday, May 4th via ESPN+ PPV.