Brandon Royval (Phil Lambert/Combat Press)

UFC 253’s Brandon Royval: Living a Dream

At this point, the story of Brandon Royval is well known following his big win over Tim Elliott at UFC on ESPN 9 in May. Royval entered the Octagon for his promotional debut on a two-fight winning streak, and he submitted the veteran flyweight and former title challenger in the second round. He subsequently stated in his post-fight interview that he wasn’t happy with his showing, and that he had to go back to working nights at a juvenile center in his native Denver.

“Tim was a pretty bad match-up for me,” Royval told Combat Press. “He does some really weird things, and it takes time to prepare for a guy like Tim Elliott. Stylistically, it’s a horrible match-up for me, and I think I can be a horrible match-up for him also. He’s awkward, keeps a high pace, and wrestles a lot. He shoots in and doesn’t really throw anything hard. He just wrestles and backs out. Then, he throws some awkward punches and comes right back in for a takedown. It’s hard to deal with when he keeps a high pace.”

The $12,000 to show and a $12,000 win bonus might not be life-changing money, but it definitely clocks in as starting pay for a UFC fighter. However, Royval got huge news before he left the arena that night. UFC President Dana White awarded both him and Elliott an extra $50,000 for “Fight of the Night.” Royval would finally be able to leave his night job to pursue his career as a full-time fighter. That’s not even the beginning of the story, though.


At this time last year, Royval was not in a great mindset. He was coming into the fall season after picking up a first-round submission over UFC vet Joby Sanchez in May and had an upcoming rematch scheduled against Jerome Rivera in October at Legacy Fighting Alliance 78, only for the event to get canceled when the LFA lost its broadcasting partnership with AXS TV. He had broken his foot at work, too. The homefront wasn’t looking any better, as Royval was going through a break-up with his girlfriend.

The LFA finally had him rescheduled for LFA 79 in November, but he went through multiple opponent changes before finding out he was fighting Nate Williams on a week’s notice.

Needless to say, Royval’s head was a mess. Yet, he persevered. The 28-year-old found an armbar for the finish against Williams. The fight lasted all of 23 seconds.

Royval didn’t have much on the docket when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdowns started. When he found out about the Elliott fight, he wasn’t even able to train at his home gym at Factory X Muay Thai. Instead, he was training around town with various partners at parks and whatever locations would let them in. He rarely got any sleep between training and working a night job. So, for Royval to come in and say his performance was not the best, it’s understandable, especially considering three of his previous four wins were first-round stoppages.

Royval’s life is a lot different these days.

“It’s crazy to think of where I was then to now,” said the UFC’s ninth-ranked flyweight. “I’m living my dream. I wake up and pursue my dream every day, man. I definitely wake up feeling blessed and can’t believe where I’m at right now — even right now, specifically. I’m sitting on a balcony, looking out at Yas Island. I’m just enjoying life every day.”

Royval, who had never traveled outside the United States before, was taking part in this interview from UFC’s “Fight Island” in the United Arab Emirates. On Saturday, at UFC 253, he will serve as a feature fight on the main card for the company’s return to Yas Island. He faces seventh-ranked flyweight Kai Kara-France.

Royval has known about this fight for three months. However, he originally signed to fight in Las Vegas. He didn’t know he was going to “Fight Island” until about three weeks ago.

“This is a good match-up for me,” Royval said. “Kara-France does a lot of great things. He does a lot of really good, technical things. That’s the difference between him and Tim Elliott. Tim is so chaotic — and I don’t think even he knows what he’s about to do next — where Kara-France is very calculated and — I don’t want to say predictable, but — he has a game plan. I know he’s trying to set up that big ol’ right hand the whole entire time. I think, stylistically, I’m more of a chaotic kind of fighter. I think that’s going to be benefiting me in this fight.”

Kara-France, who trains out of City Kickboxing in his native New Zealand, is Royval’s biggest test to date. With a 21-8-1 record, he has finished 12 opponents and only been stopped four times. Kara-France entered the UFC as a competitor on The Ultimate Fighter reality show in 2016, and he has since gone 4-1 in the Octagon. While he hasn’t fought since February, he brings in a well-rounded game. However, he doesn’t have quite the jiu-jitsu prowess of Royval, who has submitted seven opponents in the course of compiling 11 victories.

Now that Royval doesn’t have to work nights, he feels his game will be even more elevated on Saturday night when he clashes with Kara-France.

“I’m bringing a whole different element of being a full-time fighter,” Royval explained. “I’m getting some sleep. People are finally going to get to see how I am as a real, full-time professional. It’s not that I wasn’t training hard. I just wasn’t getting any sleep and wasn’t able to do the things that a real athlete at the professional level is able to do. Now, I’ve got the chance to showcase what I can do on a bigger stage against better opponents. It’s a good opportunity for me to shine.”

Royval works hard. He focuses on his goals. He always performs at a high level. His ability to do these things has allowed him to climb toward the top of the sport of MMA. Last year, he was beat down, both mentally and physically. Today, he is a top-10 UFC flyweight with a bright future ahead of him. He certainly is living the dream.