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UFC 301 predictions — Alexandre Pantoja vs. Steve Erceg: Fight card, odds, preview, expert picks, prelims

The UFC returns to Brazil on Saturday with an interesting card topped by a flyweight title showdown. In the main event, Alexandre Pantoja will make the second defense of his flyweight championship when he takes on Steve Erceg.

Pantoja will have the support of his countrymen in the crowd when he puts his title on the line but faces an interesting test in the form of Erceg, who is getting a title shot on the strength of just three UFC victories. Despite a thin record, Erceg is only a slight +160 favorite because of the depth of skill he has shown thus far in his UFC career.

The undercard is lacking in a lot of ways, but it did get a boost with the addition of UFC Hall of Famer Jose Aldo. The former featherweight king will take on Jonathan Martinez in a bantamweight bout slated for the co-main event. Elsewhere, Vitor Petrino will battle light heavyweight veteran Anthony Smith, Michel Pereira will take on Ihor Potieria in a middleweight contest and another 185-pound tilt opens the PPV when Caio Borralho takes on Paul Craig.

With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

UFC 301 fight card, odds

  • Alexandre Pantoja (c) -190 vs. Steve Erceg +160, flyweight title
  • Jonathan Martinez -160 vs. Jose Aldo +135, bantamweights
  • Vitor Petrino -500 vs. Anthony Smith +375, light heavyweights
  • Michel Pereira -550 vs. Ihor Potieria +400, middleweights
  • Caio Borralho -550 vs. Paul Craig +400, middleweights
  • Joanderson Brito -150 vs. Jack Shore +125, featherweights
  • Iasmin Lucindo -420 vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz +320, women’s strawweights
  • Myktybek Orolbai -275 vs. Elves Brener +225, lightweights
  • Drakkar Klose -160 vs. Joaquim Silva +135, lightweights
  • Mauricio Ruffy -180 vs. Jamie Mullarkey +155, lightweights
  • Dione Barbosa -220 vs. Ernesta Kareckaite +180, women’s flyweights
  • Ismael Bonfim -550 vs. Vinc Pichel +400, lightweights
  • Alessandro Costa -130 vs. Kevin Borjas +110, flyweights

With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).

UFC 301 picks, predictions

Campbell Brookhouse Mahjouri Mormile Wise
Pantoja vs. Erceg Erceg Pantoja Pantoja Pantoja Pantoja
Martinez vs. Aldo Aldo Aldo Aldo Martinez Martinez
Pereira vs. Potieria Pereira Pereira Pereira Pereira Pereira
Petrino vs. Smith Petrino Petrino Petrino Petrino Petrino
Borralho vs. Craig Borralho Borralho Borralho Booralho Borralho

Pantoja vs. Erceg

Campbell: Don’t let the inexperience of the 28-year-old Erceg fool you. Despite just three walks to the Octagon in just 11 months as a UFC fighter, the native of Australia has quickly climbed the ranks due to his lethal combo of technical striking and lights out grappling skills. He’ll be entering enemy territory, of course, as Pantoja looks to defend his title in front of his home fans. But Pantoja’s penchant of late to pull himself into all-out wars, similar to his split-decision win over Brandon Moreno last July to claim the 125-pound title, may not help him against someone as precise and fluid as Erceg. Pantoja has fought 10 grueling rounds over the last 10 months alone. The opening is there for Erceg to quiet the partisan crowd en route to a well-earned decision win. 

Brookhouse: Picking Pantoja isn’t a knock on Erceg but rather trusting in Pantoja’s experience at a much higher level. Erceg does not have a win over a fighter with a winning UFC record while Pantoja has multiple wins over elite opposition and has experience going five rounds. Erceg is a live dog, for sure, but I’m going to ride with the experience and proven ability at the elite level.

Mahjouri: Erceg is an impressive fighter and I can see a world title around his waist. I’m just not willing to discount Pantoja’s body of work. Pantoja drowned the UFC’s No. 1 flyweight contender Brandon Royval in his first title defense. The champion is relentless with his pressure and equipped with a chin that can’t be cracked. Erceg recently knocked out a notoriously chinny Matt Schnell, only Erceg’s second KO in 13 pro fights. That doesn’t convince me he can punch out Pantoja. Erceg’s efficient superior striking overshadows the fact he’s primarily a submission finisher. To that end, Pantoja is a talented grappler who hasn’t been submitted either. Finally, it’s a mystery if Erceg can sustain his output for 25 minutes. Erceg has never fought five rounds and got the title offer far sooner than expected. It might be a case of too much too soon for the challenger.

Martinez vs. Aldo

Campbell: If the faceoff at Wednesday’s media day wasn’t enough to illustrate how fired up “The King of Rio” is to end his brief MMA retirement and attempt to fight out of his UFC contract, it’s time to take notice. Yes, Aldo is 37 and hasn’t won a UFC fight since 2021. And, yes, his opponent Martinez is no slouch, as the 30-year-old is riding a six-fight win streak as he enters as a slight betting favorite. But Aldo, who has teased throughout pre-fight interviews of big opportunities available to him outside the UFC with the culmination of his contract, has plenty to fight for. With the home crowd behind him, the stage appears set for Aldo to find one more magical moment to, potentially, put a capstone on a legendary UFC run. He still has the firepower to do so and the experience to finish Martinez once the fight turns into a war.

Mahjouri: Aldo hasn’t fought MMA in 18 months but he’s stayed active in low-level pro boxing. That eliminates concerns about ring rust, particularly against an opponent who favors striking. Martinez is in rare form right now and a win over Aldo would open eyes. After all, Aldo fought competently against Merab Dvalishvili pre-retirement and won three straight fights against ranked bantamweight before that. It might be a sentimental choice, but I’ll take Aldo’s experience and veteran savvy to bridge any concerns about durability and Martinez’s athletic advantages. It’ll be a close fight but Aldo has repeatedly proven he knows how to outpoint other strikers.

Wise: While all the attention in this fight will be on Aldo, and deservedly so, it feels like Martinez is being overlooked despite being the betting favorite. Martinez was a surprise choice for Aldo’s return fight as he has looked extremely dangerous and a rising contender at bantamweight. Martinez has won six straight and taken out some of the other rising contenders in the division. While this could turn into a leg-kicking contest, I’ll trust the younger, fresher fighter to come out hot. He’ll likely have to get the finish given potential judge influence by the partisan crowd in Brazil, but he’s good enough to get the job done.

Pereira vs. Potieria

Campbell: It might be rare to see a well-known fighter such as Pereira, who is riding a seven-fight win streak yet doesn’t currently find himself ranked in the top 15 of any UFC weight class. Part of that, of course, is due to his move up to 185 pounds last year, which netted a pair of victories. This is the matchup that has all the potential for Pereira to truly announce himself as a future title contender at the weight class as he welcomes a tough out in Potieria, who has lost three of his last five, including all three by TKO. When Pereira tones down the theatrics and focuses on combining his explosive (and unpredictable) striking with an increasingly dangerous grappling game, he’s a tough out for anyone between 170 and 185 pounds. As long as the home crowd doesn’t push him into making the kind of mistakes which led to a pair of early UFC defeats, Pereira should only continue marching closer toward legitimacy. 

Brookhouse: It is still surprising to see Pereira riding a lengthy winning streak. Early in his UFC career, he was a very volatile fighter who made ridiculous mistakes in service of his wild style. Pereira is still a wild fighter, but he has toned things down a bit and has become a more complete threat in the process. Now at middleweight, Pereira has looked solid and he has an opponent who is stylistically a good pairing. Potieria will be there to be hit and Pereira is good at delivering those hits.

Who wins UFC 301: Pantoja vs. Erceg, and how exactly does each fight end? Visit SportsLine now to get detailed picks on UFC 301, all from the MMA expert who profited more than $1,500 on his UFC main-card picks in 2023, and find out. 

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