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Elite MMA Coaches Break Down Saturday's UFC 290 Co-Main Flyweight Title Bout

Ahead of every championship fight, UFC staff writer E. Spencer Kyte will sit down with some of the sharpest coaching minds in the sport to break down the action and provide UFC fans with insights into each championship pairing from the men that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.

For UFC 290, Kyte called upon Tyson Chartier, head coach of the New England Cartel, and and Xtreme Couture ringleader Eric Nicksick to provide their thoughts on four points heading into the flyweight championship clash between Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja.

Best Trait of Each Fighter

Kyte: At a time in the sport where everyone is pretty solid everywhere, generally speaking, what is the one thing that each of these competitors do better than anyone else?

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Chartier: For Moreno, I think it’s his durability and his cardio. It seems like — before the Figueiredo fights - he wasn’t a guy I would have looked at like a “cardio machine,” but now he’s just taking the best of what everybody is giving him and pouring it on after that.

He’s just f****** durable now, and he keeps improving, so I think it’s those things. I also think with his confidence right now, he looks like a different fighter now than he did three years ago.

And then Pantoja, I think it’s his aggressiveness, his ability to finish at flyweight, his physicality, but it’s hard because he’s not active; we’ve seen like three minutes of the kid in the last three years. But the best trait is his ability to finish fights.

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He’s also beaten (Moreno) twice. He’s a very physical 125’er, and he’s on a decent streak, even if it’s spread out.

Nicksick: The best trait of Moreno, right now, is his boxing, but the fighter instinct of him — his willingness not to be turned away by anything — is ultimately his best trait; the kid’s super-good, super-tough, super-durable.

That’s his history, but, as of late, I definitely have to give props to (Jorge) Capetillo and his boxing. I think his boxing looks really good.

Alexandre Pantoja punches Brandon Moreno during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Benavidez vs Team Cejudo at the UFC TUF Gym on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Alexandre Pantoja punches Brandon Moreno during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Benavidez vs Team Cejudo at the UFC TUF Gym on July 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC)

Pantoja, there is definitely his jiu jitsu, but his striking has been coming around, too, and he’s been utilizing his jiu jitsu more because he’s been getting guys hurt and been able to jump on their backs and utilize that to look for the quick submission.

It’s a very interesting fight, that’s for sure.

Path to Victory for Each Fighter

Kyte: Everyone would love a 10-second knockout or a quick submission, but that’s not often how these things go, especially not at the championship level. Instead, it’s usually the competitor that has crafted the better game plan and did the better job of executing things inside the Octagon that comes away with their hand raised and the gold around their waist.

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So, how does either man get it done on Saturday night?

Nicksick: For me, I think it’s smart for Moreno to utilize his hands more, box more, and limit the amount of kicks because of the threat of getting a kick caught, taken down, forced into a scramble, where I think Pantoja is very good, especially when he’s able to find fast routes to the back.

I think for Moreno, really utilizing his footwork and his boxing will be very important for him in this fight. Also, get this fight into the later rounds, deeper rounds, and dig that body.

Chartier: For Pantoja, I don’t think it’s a tactical path in terms of “take him down, do this,” I think it’s more “don’t expect this to be the path.” This is five rounds and you’re fighting a different guy. Don’t go out there and try to throttle him because you beat him twice, thinking you’re gonna “big brother” him, because that’s not what Moreno gets beat with anymore.

That’s actually how he wins: he’s the guy that goes out there, looking unimposing, and he’s there, he scrambles, and next thing you know, you’re tired and he’s chipping away at you. Now you’re getting tired and he’s beating you up.

I think he has to really plan for a five-round fight and not overextend himself physically — be okay with winning a close round, be okay with chipping away, don’t try to hurt him.

Nicksick: I think Pantoja needs to create some scramble moments because his transitional submission game is very good off of a failed shot or an overthrown punch, things where he can get Brandon Moreno off balance, kind of like how (Patrick Mix) is; he’s very good at getting guys off balance, and then hula-hooping to the back, jumping on the back into that backpack and things like that.

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I think for Pantoja, he has to create scrambles out of the clinch, even if they’re not scored takedowns, so you can create transitional submission opportunities. He’s got to fight him a little tighter in the phone booth, make some clinch battles, trip battles to where he can create some of these transitional submission setups.

Where can you level the playing field a little better for Pantoja? It’s going to be in the grappling. He’s shown us he can catch Brandon Moreno — that’s in the back of his head, and it’s in the back of Moreno’s head, too.

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Chartier: For Moreno, I think he needs to weather that storm and find ways to chip away like he has in the last couple fights. Stay in there, be scrappy. He doesn’t have to play (Pantoja’s) game.

Moreno has really good self-regulation — he manages his cardio, he stays smart; he’s good enough to make you work but understands that even if he’s in a bad position, you’re still working and you’re the one that is going to be more tired. He flows with things. He’s effortless, smooth, and that’s a skill in itself.

It’s impressive watching his transformation.

X Factor

Kyte: If there were one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out — that swings it in one direction or the other — what would it be?

Chartier: There is kind of one on each side.

I’m still interested to see how Moreno does if he’s getting beat up. Let’s say the first two rounds he gets slaughtered; how does he make the necessary adjustments with a new team? Last fight wasn’t a ton of adversity, so it’s going to be interesting to see if he’s meshed well with Sayif (Saud) yet because they’ve had limited time together.

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Are they making changes? Is he throwing away things? Is he going to fight differently?

And the X factor on the other side is what does Pantoja look like, because we’ve seen him fight for 90 seconds in two years. On paper, he looks like he could kill this kid, but we don’t know how he looks if he has a tough first round; we have no idea.

If he doesn’t put Moreno away right away, how does he look? We don’t know.

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Nicksick: I think (the fact that Pantoja has beaten Moreno twice) is part of the X factor. Both guys being in there — even if one of these fights is an exhibition, kind of, on The Ultimate Fighter — knowing a guy, feeling a guy means something.

For Moreno, it’s as a motivational factor like, ‘This guy has beaten me twice, but those don’t matter in terms of where I’m at today.’ I think that’s a motivator for him to go out there and prove everybody wrong in that regard. On the flip side for Pantoja, I think he’s comfortable knowing he’s been in there with a guy like Moreno, and has caught him, has maybe seen some holes in his game, and try to look to exploit that in terms of having some mind control over him.

One Coaching Curiosity

Kyte: Coaches see the sport differently and look at the sport differently than anyone else, picking up on different things and paying attention to movements, habits, or intangible pieces that others might not notice, but that could have a significant impact on the action inside the Octagon.

Every matchup offers its own unique collection of elements that might pique a coach’s interest and get them paying a little closer attention to once the fight gets underway.

So what is that one thing in this matchup?

Nicksick: What has Brandon been doing, coaching-wise, consistently? I know Hector Vasquez isn’t coaching him now. I know he’s got (Jorge) Capetillo and Sayif Saud, but I don’t know how that works out. I’m wondering if he’s been running his own camp. Who has been there for him because that’s something that can really affect him.

Just what has been going on consistency-wise, because “Parrumpa” (Marcos DaMatta) and Pantoja have been working together for a long time. I’m just curious about what Brandon has put together and who is putting the pieces together for him.

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Chartier: I’m interested to see if Pantoja comes out and tries to put the pedal to the metal in the first round to try to get him out of there. I’m interested to see if he risks that, because in the past, he has gotten him out of there, and he’s been able to get other tough guys out there.

Is he willing to risk that after seeing Moreno’s durability over the years, his ability to come back from adversity, and because this is a five-round fight? Is he willing to come out and try to be that guy? I’m pumped to see how the first three minutes go.

UFC 290: Volkanovski vs Rodriguez took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 8, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!