Brandon Royval is fired up and ready to go for his Saturday bout against fellow flyweight contender Alexandre Pantoja. That’s no surprise, considering that the Coloradan has been on the shelf since November of last year due to shoulder surgery. So how has that wait been?
“My emotional wait has been horrible,” said Royvals. “I went from a super great start to get into the UFC to a quick rise, then all of a sudden, I'm paused and I'm watching everybody kinda take what I thought I was gonna get. It tested the love of the sport and the patience and all that stuff and how much I really wanted it.”
He’s here, so you know that he still wants it, but being so close to the top after just two UFC fights, then losing that spot in the third after an injury led to a loss to the man who parlayed that win into a world title shot and then a world title, is kind of hard to deal with.
“It's not like I was getting my ass whupped,” Royval said of his UFC 255 loss to Moreno, which came with one second left in the first round. “I think I was winning the striking portions, and I would have scored the round for him, but honestly, I thought I was whupping his ass in the beginning. I felt calm, but I was trying too many stupid things. I was trying a spinning back elbow, and I was just trying to have fun in there and I got careless and gave up my back when I was trying my fourth spinning back elbow in a row. (Laughs) But that's how confident I was feeling in there against the current flyweight champion.”
Moreno would go on to a Fight of the Year candidate against 125-pound champ Deiveson Figueiredo that ended in a draw, and in their June rematch, “The Assassin Baby” struck gold, submitting Figueiredo in the third round to become the first Mexico native to win a UFC title. Royval went on to shoulder surgery, but he believes everything is working out the way it should.
“I needed that shoulder surgery,” he said. “Brandon Moreno goes on to have the most epic fight and then blows up the flyweight division and becomes a superstar. So I think everything that happened needed to happen. I think he deserves to be a champion and what a great guy and what a great fighter. So it's awesome to see him succeed; it's awesome to see him blow up and be a star, and it's gonna be even more awesome when I win this fight and go make a name off of him.”
That’s a fighter talking, but Royval is quick to point out that he’s not salty about Moreno getting a title while he got a nine-month trip to the sidelines. He just wants another crack at the champ.
“As a fan, I love Brandon Moreno,” he said. “I love Pantoja. I fight these dudes with love because I have so much respect for them and it's such an honor to be fighting them. It's almost unbelievable.”
The 29-year-old Denver native says that because it was only in May of 2020 that he made his UFC debut and began this wild ride. At the time, he was still working a full-time job, but his wins over Tim Elliott and Kai Kara-France earned him a pair of Fight of the Night bonus checks and the ability to become a full-time fighter. It also made him a fan favorite, not just for his fighting style, but his story. Royval was no overnight success, though.
“It wasn't a quick rise,” he said. “It was the slowest rise ever, honestly.”
Royval laughs, knowing that the world only saw him come out of nowhere and finish two flyweight contenders in his first two UFC fights. They didn’t see what happened before that. Royval doesn’t forget those times.
“It's just been years of collective work, years of me not taking any days off, believing in myself and just staying focused,” he said. “For years I've been working my ass off, working 40 hours, hardly getting sleep, and then just staying focused and not missing a day at the gym, ever, and making sure that MMA is my priority while I’m pouring my love into the sport. I never knew if it was gonna work out, but then when it does, it seems like I had a quick rise and I came out of nowhere, but I've been working for years. It’s just that nobody knew about it or knew how it was, except for my team. My team knew what I was capable of, and I knew that I could have beat all of these flyweight fighters years ago. I knew I've been one of the better fighters in the world. And you know that, but you don't really know that until you're right there.”
In 2020, Royval got there and proved himself right. In 2021, it’s time to get back where he belongs.
“Now I have ground to cover,” he said. “I have a lot of making up to do. When I first got signed to the UFC, it was like, I'm signed to the UFC, I did it, and that's enough. Now being in the UFC is not enough. I need to go take over, I need to take all their money, and I need to go be the champ of the UFC flyweight division. I don't want to go back to my old life. So, every day I wake up so hungry, and so ready to make this dream happen. There's no going back for me.”