New UFC champion had to drive Uber Eats amid title run to make ends meet; MMA world reacts

This newly-minted UFC champion had to take on a job as an Uber Eats driver to make ends meet for him and his family.

By: Milan Ordoñez | 3 months ago

One of UFC 290’s notable moments happened at the co-main event. Elite flyweights Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja duked it out for five full rounds, leaving everything behind inside the Octagon. 

While both men took home a much-deserved $50K bonus for Fight of the Night, it was Pantoja who walked out the cage the victor, and the undisputed flyweight title around his waist. But as he revealed on Monday, the path to the top was challenging, to say the least. 

Alexandre Pantoja reveals obstacles during UFC title run

In an interview on the MMA Hour, Pantoja revealed some of his struggles from a few years back, particularly in 2021. At the time, he had just defeated Manel Kape and decided to send his family back to Brazil from Florida to save money. 

Pantoja has been a ranked UFC contender for several years, and has been in the top five since 2019. But in a story we’ve seen many times in this sport, the 33-year-old Pantoja still had no choice but to pick up a side gig. 

“That’s about sacrifice for me. I won the fight with Manel and used the money as down payment for the house, and bringing my family back was the most important for myself,” Pantoja said. 

“Money was short, and my wife started to clean houses, and I started to drive Uber Eats. But I’d do this again if I needed, you know? It’s not just about myself, this is about my family and my kids, my two boys.”

More challenges for the newly-crowned UFC champ

After the Kape fight in February 2021, Pantoja took on top contender Brandon Royval at UFC Vegas 34 six months later. He won the fight along with an extra $50K for Performance of the Night, which proved to be a huge financial boost for him. 

But once again, the road to get there was a long and winding one. 

“One week before the fight [with Royval], I’m delivering Uber Eats, it’s raining and I’m sick,” Pantoja recalled. 

“When I go to fight week I’m very sick, and I’m very scared of getting COVID again. And I just prayed it’s not COVID, because I just had one month for my bills, you know?

“When I made weight and everything is OK, I just say thank you for God, because I had a knee injury, my ACL was completely broken, and I was sick, but when I got the money of the fight I know it was OK, I had six months to live. 

“But then I won the fight, and I won the bonus, I can have surgery and relax for a couple of months and recover good.”

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Pantoja vs. Moreno 4?

Pantoja and Moreno put on such a spectacular show for fight fans on Saturday, that a fourth go-around has already been discussed. Here’s what UFC president Dana White had to say during the post-fight scrum

“It’s like the Figueiredo fight,” White told reporters. “It was so good… I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anybody on Earth that wouldn’t want to see that fight again, it was so good. And so close.” 

From his end, Pantoja is open to a part four but is likewise willing to look at other options. 

“Of course I want to fight Moreno again. I think everybody wants to see that fight again. I didn’t re-watch the fight, but everybody talked to me and said it’s one of the best flyweight [fights], one of the best title fights, but I think every division needs to [move]. 

“He and Deiveson held this for two or three years, [so let’s] have another guys in the division. I know everybody wants that fight with Moreno again, but let’s go see what [UFC President] Dana White says. I think maybe put two guys to fight, and then after that fight with me.”

Moreno and Pantoja after UFC 290

After his UFC 290 win, Pantoja extended his win streak to four as he improved to a record of 26-5. 
As for Moreno, he broke a two-fight win streak and dropped to a win-loss slate of 21-7-2. As revealed by his coach Sayif Saud, “The Assassin Baby” suffered a broken hand in the first round.

Pantoja’s last disclosed purse vs Boxing counterparts

Editor’s note: The following sections are written by Anton Tabuena

For several years, the UFC tried — and mostly succeeded — in lobbying with the government and various Athletic Commissions to stop disclosing purses to the public, despite that information helping the athletes get paid better. The UFC deem these a “trade secret,” and while commissions are supposedly there to protect the fighters’ interest instead of the promoters, most of them folded and very few states still disclose purses today.

The most recent purse information for Pantoja was from Atlanta, Georgia back in 2019, when he had a purse of $18,000 to show and $18,000 to win.

Pantoja was ranked top 3 in the world at the time.

That total is obviously very low for a title contender in the UFC, which makes so much money and dwarfs every fight promoter in the world, but here’s further context on what his boxing counterparts were earning.

Their specific positions in the rankings varied depending on the source, but in the same time period in 2019, the top four boxers at 126 lbs were Leo Santa Cruz, Garry Russell Jr., Josh Warrington and Oscar Valdez.

Three of the four earned at least $1 million plus a majority share of the revenue in 2019, with Warrington getting a specific $1,085,500 payout from a purse bid. Oscar Valdez had a purse of over $420,000 in 2018, and likely earned much more for his three fights in 2019.

That means Pantoja’s $18,000+$18,000 payout was at least 12 times smaller than Valdez’s pay, and around 30 times smaller than those three other boxers in the same weight.

MMA world reacts to Pantoja needing to drive Uber Eats

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About the author
Milan Ordoñez
Milan Ordoñez

Milan Ordoñez has been covering combat sports since 2012 and has been part of the Bloody Elbow staff since 2016. He’s also competed in amateur mixed martial arts and submission grappling tournaments.

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