Alexandre Pantoja vs Steve Erceg predictions | UFC 301 1

Alexandre Pantoja vs. Steve Erceg is this weekend’s main event at UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

As always, we’re here to break down this fight in detail. Find our staff picks and the latest betting odds below.

Betting Odds

  • Alexandre Pantoja: -185 (BetUS)
  • Steve Erceg: +155 (BetUS)


Michael Pounders

Alexandre “The Cannibal” Pantoja, 34, won the flyweight strap with a split decision win over Brandon Moreno back in July of 2023. He has since defended his belt once, with a unanimous decision win over Brandon Royval in December of 2023. The Brazilian champion will look to make another title defense in his home country for UFC 301.

Pantoja is a relentless opponent who is seemingly impossible to slow down, much less put away. He is a suffocating wrestler who can shoot takedown after takedown for a full 25 minutes. In his last fight, Pantoja shot 14 takedowns and landed 8 of them. I bring up his wrestling first because I think that is an often overlooked and underappreciated part of his game, despite being the backbone of his fighting strategy since fighting for and getting the belt. Pantoja has always been an insanely durable fighter who gained popularity and success because of his willingness to engage in and ability to win brawls. His striking speed, power, and chin are all still prevalent aspects of his game.

But, what leveled him up to championship caliber, is “The Cannibal’s” wrestling. While his wrestling has impressed, his striking is still a cornerstone of each of Pantoja’s fights. Like he wrestling, Pantoja’s striking is rooted in grit, pressure, cardio, and power. He pushes a high pace, swings big, and looks to hurt his opponent with each combination. Because of his ultra-aggressive style, Pantoja is hittable in return. He’s relied on his durability in some fights, a strategy that will likely eventually fail him. However, for now, Pantoja’s chin is as much of a reliable asset as his striking, wrestling, and pressure.

Steve “Astro Boy” Erceg, 28, has only fought 3 times in the UFC and hasn’t beaten anyone ranked in the top 10, yet he’s getting a shot at the title. This is, in part, because Pantoja has beaten so many of the top contenders already, but also because Erceg came into the UFC with high expectations and has impressed in all 3 fights. He is 3-0 with 2 decision wins and 1 nasty KO his last time out.

Erceg has basic but effective striking, where he combines frequent calf kicks with powerful combinations up top. He implements the Teddy Atlas approach to striking by putting water in the basement- working the legs and body of an opponent to slow them down and create openings on the chin later in the fight. While Erceg doesn’t impress with speed or athleticism, his timing and intelligence on the feet are impressive. Erceg is also a skilled and effective grappler.

Both offensively and defensively, Erceg is more than comfortable on the mat. He can mix in his own takedowns, often well-timed after he throws a combination. Erceg’s offensive wrestling is average, at best, but his ability to show the takedown again creates openings on the feet. More often, Erceg will engage in the clinch and is comfortable if he is takedown himself. Because of his height, 5’8 at 125, Erceg is often the taller man in the clinch which means he has the leverage advantage.

On the mat, though, is where Erceg can be dangerous and surprise opponents with his strength and fluidity. He is a well-schooled BJJ fighter with an ability to scramble for advantageous positons and execute once he sees an opening. Erceg’s biggest questions are centered around his lack of UFC experience and defensive wrestling. He hasn’t proved, nor has he failed, at beating high level UFC competition or defending takedowns against a strong wrestler.

I think this fight will look a lot like Weili Zhang vs Yan Xiaonan from UFC 300 where the challenger, with the height and range striking advantage, will make the fight much closer than the odds suggest. Therefore, I don’t mind a dog shot on Erceg. However, like Zhang, I expect Pantoja to respond to any struggles on the feet with constant and effective wrestling en route to a decision win. Pantoja has increased his wrestling as of late, Erceg can be taken down, and Pantoja’s experience should allow him to make any in-fight adjustments if necessary.

So, if Pantoja is struggling to close distance on the feet, I expect him to power wrestle early and often. But, given Erceg’s skills on the mat, I don’t expect Pantoja to find the finish on the canvas. Instead, I think the champ will remain “and still” after a competitive decision win. Therefore, my best bet is o3.5 rounds. Because Pantoja does carry power and Erceg hasn’t gone 5 rounds in the UFC, I’m going to leave room for a late finish from Pantoja rather than taking the champ to win a decision.

Best Bet: o3.5 rounds (-150 at BetUS)

Joe Pounders

Alexandre Pantoja boasts a well-rounded skillset with underrated striking and suffocating grappling. The grappling component to his game cannot be understated as he is a relentless wrestler who, when secures a takedown, can quickly work his way to a submission.

Beyond grappling alone, Pantoja, an evolving fighter out of an elite gym, American Top Team, continues to develop his striking. While grappling is his bread and butter, Pantoja has developed his striking game to allow him to remain comfortable on the feet, and even, possess dangerous power that can bring caution to his opponent.

So, in total, Pantoja is a well-rounded champion who has successfully defended his belt in a very tough, fluid division. While he has minimal flaws, the issue of failing to secure takedown is a possibility here, and if it comes to fruition, then a flyweight striking bout between two high-level fighters can make rounds extremely close, potentially leading to lost rounds and therefore the fight.

Keeping the fight standing is the likely ideal game plan for Steve Erceg here. Erceg, riding significant momentum in this fight, has looked phenomenal so far in the UFC, showcasing elite skills and powerful knockout ability. While he has fought talented opponents, none have been close to the top 5 currently in the flyweight division, so many fans feel Erceg is getting an unexpected, and perhaps unearned, title shot here. Whether agreement is made over Erceg deserving a title fight this early in his career, it does not matter, particularly with deserving not equating to potentially winning the title.

As a fighter, Erceg has shown minimal flaws to date. He is tall and strong for the flyweight division, and, unlike other physically imposing flyweights who prefer clean range, Erceg likes to get in close and land damage. Moreover, he does a great job not relying on his physical structure, instead, implements a highly technical arsenal that is impressive on the feet, and, enables him to have success implementing and defending against takedowns.

Defending takedowns will be tested here, fighting such an elite grappler with a breadth of experience in the octagon in Pantoja. If Erceg can stuff takedowns and keep the fight standing, he likely has the technical striking edge here and equals if not tops Pantoja’s power as well.

This fight is an intriguing clash of styles. Pantoja’s experience and well-roundedness give him the edge, but Erceg’s power and momentum can’t be ignored. It likely comes down to where the fight takes place. If Erceg can land a clean punch early, it could be a quick night. However, if Pantoja weathers the storm and takes the fight to the ground, his grappling will likely be too much for Erceg.

When assessing which game plan will be more successful, I am going to back the more proven fighter who is also the better grappler in Alexandre Pantoja. He’ll use his experience to avoid Erceg’s big shots and eventually wear him down with his grappling pressure. While I would not be shocked to see Erceg pull an underdog, electrifying finish victory in Brazil, I believe the win probability is on the side of the “and still” champion in Pantoja.

Bet: Pantoja to win (-185 at BetUS)

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