Alexandre Pantoja defeats Steve Erceg after five-round war at UFC 301, full fight highlights

A dejected Steve Erceg put up quite the fight against flyweight king Alexandre Pantoja but was left to ponder what could have been after a critical mistake in the fifth round of the UFC 301 main event as he suffered a unanimous decision (48-47 x2, 49-46) defeat.

Erceg, who was looking to shock the world in what was just his fourth UFC fight after a rapid rise in the 125-pound divison, found success with slicing elbows and his overall striking game throughout the bout.

UFC 301: PANTOJA VS ERCEG | SUN 5 MAY 12PM AEST | Order Now with Main Event on Kayo Sports. Main Event on Kayo Sports and Foxtel is the new exclusive home of UFC Pay-Per-View.

However, both Erceg and Pantoja’s corners seemed in agreement that the champion had won each of the first three rounds despite the UFC commentary team suggesting otherwise.

Both Daniel Cormier and Paul Felder believed the fight was far closer than the corners were making it seem, and worried it may influence Erceg to go away from what was working for him.

That happened on a few occasions in the fight as Erceg successfully took Pantoja down in the fifth round but stayed on the ground too long, with Cormier describing it as a “big mistake”.

Then in the fifth again, having looked likeliest to cause damage on his feet as Erceg landed another clean elbow, the Australian followed it up by shooting for another takedown.

This time though he was reversed and from there Pantoja controlled the fight until the very end.

“That is where the inexperience comes into play, because while he may have elite skills he has not done it long enough at this level to know that is a mistake,” Cormier said.

Both Cormier and Felder were full of praise for Erceg, who they said proved himself “absolutely elite” by taking his far more experienced opponent the distance.

But Erceg looked visibly frustrated with himself after the fight, telling Cormier he was “surprised” with how well Pantoja scrambled.

“I usually beat guys there so that was a shock,” he said.

Erceg said he thought the third round was “close enough” and that if he had won the last round he would have given himself a “chance” of having his hand raised.

But instead that critical mistake in shooting for the takedown proved his undoing.

“I just blew it,” the Australian conceded.

“If he had stayed standing, I believe he would have won the fifth round,” added Cormier.

It will be a learning experience for Erceg though, who was the underdog entering the UFC 301 main event with victories over Matt Schnell, Alessandro Costa and David Dvořák.

Overall, Erceg was on an 11-fight win streak in his professional MMA career, yet this was expected to be too much of a step up in class against Pantoja, who has three victories over former two-time flyweight champion Brandon Moreno.

“It’s hard to see Steve realise that right then and there and we kind of said it on the broadcast but like DC told him, nothing to hang your head on,” Felder said.

“You fought a great champion and you showed why you belonged there and you will be, I believe, back there in that exact same spot.”

Re-live all the action from the fight in our live, round-by-round blog below!

UFC 301 FULL CARD

Main Card

Alexandre Pantoja (c) def. Steve Erceg via UD (48-47 x2, 49-46) — for the UFC flyweight title

Jose Aldo def. Jonathan Martinez via UD (30-27 x3) — Bantamweights

Anthony Smith def. Vitor Petrino via submission, Round 1 — Light Heavyweights

Michel Pereira def. Ihor Potieria via submission, Round 1 — Middleweights

Caio Borralho def. Paul Craig via KO, Round 2 — Middleweights

Prelims

Joanderson Brito def. Jack Shore via TKO, Round 2 — Featherweights

Iasmin Lucindo def. Karolina Kowalkiewicz via UD (30-27 x3) — Strawweights

Myktybek Orolbai def. Elves Brener via UD (29-27 x3) — Lightweights

Drakkar Klose def. Joaquim Silva via UD (29-28 x3) — Lightweights

Early Prelims

Mauricio Ruffy def. Jamie Mullarkey via TKO, Round 1 — Lightweights

Dione Barbosa def. Ernesta Kareckaite via UD (29-28 x3) — Flyweights

Ismael Bonfim def. Vinc Pichel via UD (30-27 x3) — Lightweights

Alessandro Costa def. Kevin Borjas via TKO, Round 2 — Flyweights

EARLIER:

AUSSIE ON WRONG END OF NEW UFC HYPE MACHINE

Earlier, Australian underdog Jamie Mullarkey was stopped in the first round of his fight against Mauricio Ruffy.

Ruffy, who had a 9-1 professional MMA record entering Sunday, was making his UFC debut after a third round stoppage of Raimond Magomedaliev in the Dana White Contenders Series.

With nine wins by knockout, Ruffy made an immediate statement in his first fight for the promotion as UFC analyst Din Thomas said in commentary that he reminded him of a “young Conor McGregor”.

Ruffy showed a bit of everything in the win, tripping Mullarkey up with a flying scissor sweep before startling the Australian with a pair of strong right hands near the end of the round.

At that point it was a matter of when and not if Ruffy would stop him, with a flying knee and series of punches forcing the referee to step in and call an end to the fight with 18 seconds left in the round.

“Oh my goodness… a flawless victory,” Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier said in commentary.

“I think the fight was after long before it was stopped but Mullarkey was doing enough to stay in the fight,” added Paul Felder.

“Ultimately it starts to wear on him way too much. [Ruffy] stays composed though, knows Mullarkey is going to panic strike back and just isn’t there for any of the return shots. Unbelievable.”

It may have been his UFC debut but Ruffy then confidently called out lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in his post-fight interview with Cormier.

“I know you’re upset because I beat your friend,” Ruffy said.

“Enjoy your days at the top because a new king is coming.”

WAS THAT ILLEGAL? UFC MADMAN’S WILD FINISH

Elsewhere, there was some controversy as Michel Pereira made easy work of Ihor Potieria to claim a stunning submission in the opening round.

It was the 14th first-round finish of Pereira’s career, with the Brazilian dropping his rival with a one-two and then landing a spectacular but likely illegal knee to a grounded opponent’s head off a backflip.

Pereira then got the standing guillotine locked in and secured the tap, although he was perhaps lucky to not have the fight ruled a no-contest instead.

“I still think he’s got to learn his lesson from doing backflips and landing illegal knees,” Felder said.

“But a lot of it did land on the chest… and I think that’s what stopped him from potentially getting DQed.”

BLOODY BATTLE LEAVES SHORE’S LEG BATTERED

Elsewhere, Joanderson Brito absolutely destroyed Jack Shore’s leg on the way to a bloody win on the preliminary card.

Brito just consistently fired away with kicks throughout the fight, opening up a gnarly gash on Shore’s clearly compromised leg.

Shore bravely soldiered through but eventually was ruled unable to continue in the second round after an assessment by the ringside physician, who believed the 29-year-old may have broken his leg.

Originally published as ‘I blew it’: Steve Erceg’s admission after world title heartbreak

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