Former UFC champion Cody Garbrandt is finally heading to the UFC flyweight division after a successful run at bantamweight, but can’t expect a warm reception as he makes the 125-pound class his home.
Perennial flyweight contender Alexandre Pantoja, who draws Brandon Royval at Saturday night’s UFC Vegas 34 at the UFC APEX, is hoping that “No Love” fails in his first stop at flyweight, a thee-round clash with Kai-Kara France on Dec. 11.
“I really hope Kai beats the crap out of Cody Garbrandt,” Pantoja said in an interview with MMA Fighting.
Pantoja doesn’t have anything against Garbrandt in particular. The reason why the Brazilian pulling for his former opponent to come out victorious in December is to send a message to those who aren’t fans of the 125-pound division.
“I know Kai, he’s a great kid,” said Pantoja, who defeated him via decision during The Ultimate Fighter 24 in 2016. “This guy is coming down to our division thinking he’s going to have an easy life at flyweight and I want to show, I want the world to see that this is our weight class. We simply don’t have enough pounds to fight at bantamweight. I believe that a win for Kai is a way for people to start respecting more our division.”
Kara-France, 5-2 inside the octagon with wins over the likes of Tyson Nam and Raulian Paiva, enters the cage nine months after knocking out Rogerio Bontorin, securing his first stoppage victory in the UFC.
Garbrandt, who was expected to make his 125-pound debut straight for the belt opposite Deiveson Moreno after knocking Raphael Assuncao out cold in 2020, will finally cut the extra 10 pounds following a decision defeat to Rob Font in May.
Pantoja admits he was bothered by the possibility of having Garbrandt compete for the gold right in his flyweight debut, back when he was 1-3 in his past four octagon appearances, but ultimately understands the business aspect of it.
“No doubt [it bothers me], but I’m an employee and I’ll always agree with the UFC if they think that’s what should be done,” Pantoja said. “I think it’s interesting that he’s going this fight with Kai. It’s a good fight for Garbrandt because Kai also likes to fight on the feet, but, if Kai fights smarter, without exposing himself that much, I’m sure he has what it takes to beat [Garbrandt].”