Steve Erceg reacts to Alexandre Pantoja loss at UFC 301: ‘I just blew it’

Steve Erceg came close to becoming flyweight champion in just his fourth UFC fight, but instead he’ll have to linger on a few regrettable decisions that likely cost him the title.

The Australian took Alexandre Pantoja to the limit in the UFC 301 main event, but a couple of late takedowns in the fifth round that were almost immediately reversed played a huge role in the outcome. While judge Dave Tirelli inexplicably scored the fight 49-46 for Pantoja, the other two officials — Fabio Alves and Sal D’Amato — had the main event tied going into the final round.

Pantoja’s ability to counter Erceg’s takedowns, particularly after he landed on top and spent nearly two minutes there to close the fight, likely made the difference on the scorecards. Afterward, Erceg wallowed in misery as he reflected on what effectively cost him the bout.

“I thought that if I could win the last round at least, I’d give myself a chance,” Erceg said in his post-fight interview. “I just blew it.”

Erceg also addressed a razor-close third round that didn’t end up that way on the scorecards, with all three judges giving Pantoja the nod.

In similar fashion, Pantoja’s ability to get the takedown and negate Erceg’s success on the feet seemed to weigh heavily with the judges. Erceg believed he still did enough damage to ultimately win that round, but that’s not how the fight played out.

“I thought the third [round], I think it was the third that was close enough, like he got me down a couple times but there was no real control, and I got up and beat him on the feet,” Erceg said.

The takedowns and the subsequent reversals may come to haunt Erceg, even if he still managed an impressive effort in his first title fight after making his UFC debut less than a year ago. Even he seemed surprised that Pantoja consistently countered him on the ground, where he’s usually able to do some damage.

“I was surprised how well he could scramble,” Erceg said. “I usually beat guys there. It was a shock.”

In the end, Erceg flies back home to Australia with his first UFC loss and the end to his 11-fight overall win streak, but he still gained a lot of respect for a valiant effort in defeat. Given that kind of performance, Erceg won’t fall too far down the ladder, and another shot at gold likely awaits him with a couple more impressive victories.

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