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Alexandre Pantoja hopes to recreate iconic moment at UFC 301 in Brazil while Steve Erceg plans to be a spoiler

Jose Aldo sent his fellow Brazilians into a frenzy on Jan. 14, 2012. Having knocked out Chad Mendes at 4:59 in Round 1 of their UFC featherweight title fight, Aldo lept into the crowd to celebrate with his people. He was instantly swept up in a sea of humanity. It’s an iconic moment in UFC history, one Alexandre Pantoja hopes to replicate at UFC 301 this weekend.

“I hope to do it like he did with Chad Mendes. Knock him out and run through the crowd,” the UFC flyweight champion told CBS Sports. “I can imagine that. I’d be super happy with that moment. I can’t lie. I’ve never dreamed this moment could happen.”

Pantoja got his mixed martial arts start on the regional scene in Rio de Janeiro. He moved stateside in 2014 to advance his dreams of signing with the UFC and hasn’t fought in Brazil since. A decade later, Pantoja returns to the city where he was born carrying the weight of UFC gold and the hopes of a nation as one of two reigning Brazilian champions.

“I’ve never fought in Brazil for the UFC. Now, 10 years later I’m coming back like the king with the belt,” Pantoja said. “That’s why I feel so happy. Everyone feels that. Everybody in my life feels that moment with me. Everybody is super happy. But I know that isn’t going to happen if I don’t win that fight.”

It’s a summit of kings this weekend as Pantoja shares the UFC 301 poster with the original “King of Rio,” who was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame last year. But as Pantoja says, the celebration cannot begin until the mission is completed. Steve Erceg is tasked with robbing Pantoja and the fans of a touching moment as the flyweight title challenger.

“I’ve booked a stunt double to jump into the crowd so they can all kill him as I escape through the backdoor,” Erceg told CBS Sports jokingly. “That’s my escape plan.”

Erceg finds himself challenging for a UFC title far sooner than he expected. The Australian fighter made his short-notice UFC debut last June. He’s gone three-for-three in the promotion and headlines a UFC pay-per-view 11 months after debuting. There is an undercurrent of admiration for Erceg’s potential but some believe it’s too much, too soon for the UFC’s No. 10 ranked contender.

“It’s definitely been a wild ride so far…” Erceg said. “They keep offering me fights — whether they’re short notice or whatever — and I keep taking them. It hasn’t been a long journey but I’m in the spot where I want to be.

“If you guys don’t think that I’ve earned it and I’m not good enough, then I’m going to get my ass handed to me and we’ll move on. If I’m as good as I think I am, I’m going to go out there and take the title off Pantoja. It’ll be hard to say I’m not good enough then.”

Check out the full interview with Steve Erceg below.

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