Brandon Royval (R) (Phil Lambert/Combat Press)

UFC 296’s Brandon Royval: Righting a Wrong

Working with youth is not an easy task, and not everyone is built for it. However, kids need role models and people to look up to, but, unfortunately, not all kids get that in their home lives. Colorado native Brandon Royval has worked with juveniles in detention in the past. And, for many of them, the professional mixed martial artist is someone that a troubled youth can relate to.

Royval, who has trained at Factory X Muay Thai for several years, grew up in the Denver area, and he has had quite a successful fighting career. However, fighting has not always paid the bills, so, in addition to working with youth, he had a few odd jobs, including delivering Amazon packages. He started his pro fighting career over a decade ago, but in Nov. 2019, he came into LFA 79 with a 9-4 record to take on 29-18 Nate Williams, and it only took the Coloradan 23 seconds to score an armbar and the vacant LFA flyweight title. This led to a UFC contract in 2020.

In Royval’s first two UFC fights, both in 2020, he scored back-to-back, second-round finishes and performance bonuses. However, his next two fights were losses to eventual champions Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja by TKO and submission, respectively. The loss to Pantoja was the second and last one of his UFC career.


“I felt like I was just rushing things,” Royval told Dan Kuhl of Combat Press. “I feel like that was a common thing that was in my life. I would rush a lot of things, you know? If that’s doing the dishes, if that’s cleaning the house, if that’s making the bed, I would rush a lot of things – even talking – that fight included. I feel I could have easily beat that guy, that day. I had to fight off a finish. And then, I decided to go try to rush Pantoja right off the bat, instead of taking my time and playing with my food.

“It cost me my fight, if anything, I learned cleaning up, enjoying being in the moment of things, and enjoying it all for what it is. And, I feel like I stick to wanting to have first-round wins, when, in real life, it’s like, I got 15 minutes. And, now, I get to fight a few times a year, and I only get a few years left in my career, and it’s, like, I need to enjoy every minute of it.”

Royval has been a very loyal Factory X team member for a long time. However, after the Pantoja loss, he expanded his training to also work Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Michael Liera, a second-degree Andre Galvao black belt, at Logos Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Denver. Between expanding his training and tweaking his game with his head coach Marc Montoya, he was able to go on a three-fight winning streak with wins over Rogerio Bontorin, Matt Schnell, and, most recently, Matheus Nicolau.

“I feel like all those fights led up to the evolution that I’m having today,” said Royval. “Right off the bat, I knew I had to make some adjustments after that Pantoja loss. I kind of figured that out with Bontorin, and I was figuring that out a little bit with the Matt Schnell fight. The camp went really well, but the fight was a whole different monster of how he decided to come out, and he changed his style a little bit. And then, with Matheus Nicolau, I feel like I was able to kind of nail it.”

While the Bontorin win was a split decision, Royval was able to submit Matt Schnell and knock out Nicolau, both in the first round. The Nicolau fight was in Apr. 2023, and was seemingly a title eliminator,but then-champion Moreno was scheduled to fight top contender Pantoja in July.

At UFC 290, Pantoja came into the T-Mobile Arena as a slight underdog to challenge Moreno for a belt that had bounced between Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo for a couple years. However, in a Fight of the Night performance, the Brazilian scored the split decision and the belt once again changed hands. It was a close fight, but Royval was not surprised with the outcome.

“I kind of thought, coming in, I would put my money on Pantoja, to be completely honest,” Royval admitted. “That being said, after that first round, I felt like Pantoja looked exhausted. So, the fact that he was able to kind of push through that, and make something of it, was impressive to me.”

While Royval was fairly certain he was next in line for the title, nobody really knows what will happen after the belt changes hands on a split decision. Luckily for him, the pendulum swung his way. On Saturday, Dec. 16, as the co-main event of UFC 296, he will take on Pantoja for the UFC flyweight championship at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

“I pretty much knew the title shot was coming after I knocked out Matheus Nicolau,” Royval said. “That being said, I found out, maybe, like, I want to say Sep. 20 or something of that sort. I feel like that’s how I kind of manifested it. The week leading up to that, I was out in Vegas. The hotel was fairly close to the T-Mobile Arena, and I’d run to that arena everyday – like, everyday while in Vegas and training and all that stuff. I was out there boxing and then hanging out with a few close friends of mine out there. I was maybe out there for some fights, but I would go right to the arena, run around the arena, even before I knew the news that was the spot where I was going go win the belt.

“The moment I landed in Colorado, I went back and tried to go have some food, and that’s when I got the call. Pretty much, like a couple hours after my flight landed, I got the call saying that I’m up next for the title shot at T-Mobile Arena in December. That was, like, almost perfect.”

Rpyval has faced Pantoja before, and he knows what to expect. Both men have been in wars since then, and both have come out victorious. However, there can only be one winner on Saturday night, and Royval expects that to be him.

“You know, I got 25 minutes to go play with this guy and go have fun out there, and, it’s like, I might as well just make it all worth it,” Royval elaborated. “I feel like I’m going to be more patient out there, a lot more calculated. I feel like my MMA IQ has Increased. My evaluation of what I do well has changed. I feel like, in that thought process, I’ve changed who I am as a fighter as a man. Now, it’s almost perfect timing that I get the title shot, and I’ve kind of mastered the style a little better and, I have 25 minutes to go put it on display.”

Royval does not plan to repeat his performance from his first fight against Pantoja. He has come through the fire before, and he plans to do it again. In his eyes, this is what his life is all about.

“This storyline, for me, makes all the sense in the world for my life,” said the Colorado native. “I feel like I’ve messed a lot of things up the first go-around, and it’s never really been easy for me. I’ve never been that guy that was going to have an undefeated record. I feel like I have lessons, and I feel like the storyline of me is learning lessons and not giving up. That’s been the continuous storyline for me, the continuous path for me, that I feel like it’s me righting a wrong by going out there and winning the belt against the only person that’s actually beaten me in the UFC and the only person that’s actually finished me ever. It’s almost poetic to my life.”

Royval still works with youth, only now he is on the preventative side, trying to get to know kids and be a role model at the Denver Dream Center. A lot of the kids are from the same parts of the Denver area that he grew up in. Between those kids, his teammates, and his coaches, he has a lot to represent, and winning the UFC flyweight title would be a pinnacle moment in his life and career.

“It will be everything I’ve ever worked for,” Royval said. “You know what I’m saying? It’s everything I ever worked for. I feel, like, what it means for me is just like a little bit of a personal thing, like a personal accomplishment. But, what I want to represent when I go out there is my team, and I’ll be the first person to win a [UFC] belt from my team. And I have a pretty good team, and I’ve been with my team for a long time. I’ll be the first Colorado native to ever win a belt. So, I think that’s really what I’m going to represent the most out there is just being the first person from Colorado to win a belt, and being the first person from my gym to win a belt.”

The UFC 296 early prelims air live on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the preliminary card on ESPN+ and ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET. The main card airs live on ESPN+ pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Click here for full event results.