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'Grumpy' Erceg confident of Pantoja upset


As far as MMA fighters go, you won’t find many more affable than UFC flyweight title challenger Steve Erceg.

However, even the Australian has admitted to getting “grumpy” at times in the lead up to his UFC 301 bout with Alexandre Pantoja in Rio this Saturday, May 4 (May 5 in Australia).

Despite being ranked 10th in the 125-pound division, seeing Erceg become the lowest-ranked fighter to earn a title shot since Dan Henderson challenged Michael Bisping in 2016, “Astro Boy” is confident he has the tools to deal with the Brazilian.

MORE: Why Tom Hardy apologised to Steve Erceg

Making only his fourth appearance in the UFC, Erceg concedes he’s not preparing for just another fight.

“There’s a lot more media around, there’s a lot more obligations and the pressure’s definitely higher,” Erceg told Sporting News.

“Apparently during the camp I’ve been in a bad mood so I’m trying to be happier in general.”

Who gave him that feedback?

“Dad, mostly,” he said.

“Apparently I’ve been a bit grumpy.

“I think it’s mostly just thinking about the fight. 

“It’s a moment I’ve been working towards my whole life, so to have it be here, there is a lot of pressure but I’m fully prepared for it and I know that the pressure is going to make me perform better, it always has.”

The 28-year-old says he’s been able to channel those emotions positively throughout the gruelling fight camp.

“You try not to let your emotions affect you but you do need to funnel them out somehow,” Erceg said.

“Whether that’s sparring a little bit harder on a Saturday or sitting down and watching a movie to chill you out, whatever it is. 

“There’s different ways to deal with it but I’ve definitely been doing my best.”

Erceg is aiming to become Australia’s only current UFC champion after Alex Volkanovski was deposed as featherweight king by Ilia Topuria earlier this year.

A drill known as “the meat grinder” was often credited for Volkanovski’s legendary in-cage cardio. Erceg and his team call it “shark tank”.

“I’m not giving any more effort. I’ve always given everything I can, it’s just that the volume’s a little bit higher, instead of going three five [minute rounds], I’m doing five fives,” he said.

“There’s a little bit extra that goes into the camp, I’m still giving 100 per cent, it’s just I’ve got to do it for a longer period of time.

“The shark tanks in particular, it’s just a fresh person every 30 seconds for five five-minute rounds, it’s horrible. 

“You can’t go balls to the wall for five fives, you have to find time to recover and places that you can make them work while you’re not working as hard, there’s different ways that you can get through the fight and I definitely feel strong and fit enough for the five fives.”

Erceg is looking to end a five-fight winning streak for the Rio native.

The pair have the unenviable task of following up UFC 300, an event which featured Max Holloway’s all-time great knockout of Justin Gaethje.

Erceg said the temptation to throw the gameplan out the window and just swing for the fences is in every fighter.

“There’s always that thought running through my head of, ‘I just want to fight,’” he said.

“Who knows, maybe we’ll do it in the first second of the fight and we’ll try to do that for 25 minutes, I dunno, I think it’s in every fighter’s mind, just how exciting that moment would be for those two even though Gaethje didn’t get the better of it, it’s probably something he’d been looking for for a long time. 

“I’m looking for the same.”

And how does it go down?

“I think likely it goes to a decision. He’s very tough and I do think that I’m going to walk him into space and onto shots and beat him with angles and that sort of thing,” he said.

“I’ll be looking to obviously put him down but I think he’s tough enough that it likely goes the distance.”

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