Matt Schnell on UFC Busan fight vs. Alexandre Pantoja: ‘I either spark this kid, or it’s ‘Fight of the Night”

Matt Schnell is on quite the streak as he finds himself on the cusp of flyweight title contention.

Schnell takes on Alexandre Pantoja at UFC on ESPN+ 23 in Busan, South Korea, and is expecting a tough outing against a guy with whom he’s very familiar.

Schnell (14-4 MMA, 4-2 UFC) and Pantoja (21-4 MMA, 5-2 UFC) were both part of “The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions” season and have even trained together after the show. And while Schnell has a lot of respect for Pantoja, he’s expecting a barnburner Dec. 21.

“Alexandre Pantoja’s never been finished, and look at his resume,” Schnell told MMA Junkie. “I’ll be ready to skip rocks off his forehead for 15 minutes. I can do that, but if anyone is capable of putting this young man away, it’s me. So I don’t know; it’s hard to say. Every time I play this fight out in my head, it goes one of two ways: I either spark him, or it’s ‘Fight of the Night,’ and to me I can’t see it any other way, so that’s my call on it. I either spark this kid, or it’s ‘Fight of the Night.’ There will be no in-between.”

“I think it’s going to be a tough one,” Schnell added. “Like I said, I think Pantoja has long been one of the best guys in the world, and he’s a grizzly veteran. I remember on the show we were all not necessarily impressed with his – like his skills are great, but it was his IQ and his ability to adjust in a fight.”

After dropping his first two UFC bouts, Schnell has won his last four. He is coming off back-to-back first-round submissions of Louis Smolka and a “Performance of the Night” over Jordan Espinosa at UFC on ESPN 5 in August.

And Schnell, who’s been splitting his training camps between Combat Sports Academy, Faito Tamashi Combat Club, and American Kickboxing Academy, believes that the fight won’t necessarily come down to one thing. He just puts it together better than anyone else.

“I just believe stylistically, I’m a bad matchup for a lot of these guys,” Schnell said. “It has little to do with individual skillset. There are plenty of guys who could box better than me, plenty of guys who could jiu-jitsu and wrestle better than me, but I think I put it together better than anybody, and it’s not going to be one individual thing that I have an advantage over him. It’s going to be the fight as a whole.”

With bantamweight and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo unsure of his next move, the 125-pound division again is in a state of uncertainty. After Cejudo defeated T.J. Dillashaw in January, the flyweights, who were at one point fighting for their jobs, thought they finally gained stability.

But Schnell believes the division is still a work in progress, and he’s the guy who can make a difference.

“I believe there are stars here,” Schnell said. “I think of myself as the type of guy that they had hoped for when they made this division, and I can do everything. I can speak, I can fight, I can do it all, and I think that I’m a good candidate to carry this division. Now it’s important that I stay busy, and it’s important that I stay winning, but there are guys within this division who have star power and who are capable. We just need the opportunity. Put us in the big spots on the card; put us in the big fights.”

“They’ve been listening to me,” Schnell added. “They’ve been nothing but good to me, putting me in good spots in the fight card, and I feel like maybe we’re amassing a little momentum here, and all I got to do is keep winning, and we’ll stay in a good spot. I tell you what: The division’s safe if I keep winning.”

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