Brandon Royval is just six appearances into his UFC career, but the all-action fighter has already nabbed three "Fight of the Night" awards for his efforts.
Most recently, Royval and fellow scrapper Matt Schnell packed about as much excitement as possible into a bout that lasted less than half of a round at May's UFC 274. The two took turns wobbling each other on the feet over the course of a little more than two minutes before Royval was able to latch on to a fight-ending guillotine choke that saw each man take home an extra $50,000 for their efforts.
Royval admits he didn't necessarily mean for things to be quite that wild but also thinks that type of contest just ends up suiting him best on most nights.
"I pretty much put myself in the fire every time," Royval told MMA Underground. "Honestly, I thought it was going to be a little more calculated than it came across, but Matt Schnell had came out with a mission. He doesn't normally fight like that, but he literally walked across the room and started stalking me, and I was I was a little taken back by it, but I also just met fire with fire, too, because my plan was to walk him down, so when we met in the middle, I was like, 'Oh, sh-t. This isn't really going according to plan,' but I was like, 'Whatever, like, f-ck it, we're just throwing.'
"I was just kind of falling in love with just f-cking being in the middle of a fight, man, and I feel like that's when I thrive the best. ... When chaos and firefights ensue is when I'm the best, and that's usually when I walk out the better man."
With the result, Royval currently sits at No. 5 in the UFC's latest official flyweight rankings. It's a lofty position so early in his UFC run, but Royval already owns wins over ranked contenders Kai Kara-France and Tim Elliott, and his only octagon losses have come to current interim champ Brandon Moreno and No. 2 contender Alexandre Pantoja.
On Saturday, Oct. 15, Royval (14-6 MMA, 4-2 UFC) has been paired with standout Russian wrestler Askar Askarov (14-1-1 MMA, 3-1-1 UFC), who currently sits at No. 4 in the rankings. The two meet in a featured bout at UFC on ESPN 212, which streams live in its entirety on ESPN+ from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, with the winner putting themselves in an enviable position for a potential title shot sometime next year.
Stylistically speaking, Askarov is one of the most difficult matchups for anyone in the UFC at 125 pounds, and Royval openly admits the challenge. However, he also believes he's uniquely situated to counter, as well.
"I've lost against a lot of wrestler heavies who try to grind and win out moments," Royval said. "I have a lot of losses against guys like that in my past, but I've also made a career off guys like that, guys who just try to wrestle and hold me down and all the above. I've made a whole entire career off wrestlers like that, too, so it kind of goes both ways, but as far as the style goes, I'm not a huge fan of his stylistic, like, the matchup itself. I like people that are going to put themselves in danger, that are going to take risks, and that allows openings for myself.
"With Askarov, I think my whole entire gameplan and my whole entire style is just to make him fight a firefight. I don't think he wants to engage in exchanges on the feet or exchanges on the ground. I think a big gameplan of his is just kind of biding and winning the minutes, and just kind of winning rounds and winning the minutes, and just kind of winning on points, you know? I kind of feel like that's his whole entire style, and I think that's how he's going to try and fight me the whole entire time, too. My motto going into this is just everything I'm doing is I'm making him work. Everything I want to do is I just want to make him work for everything."
With a victory, Royval's next move isn't necessarily guaranteed. Reigning flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo and interim titleholder Moreno are set to unify that title in an unprecedented fourth meeting between them, which is expected to take place January in Brazil. Pantoja is then expected to have the inside track for a shot at the winner, but Royval believes if he can make a massive statement against Askarov, perhaps he could earn a rematch with the Brazilian contender, ideally scheduling it on the undercard of the Figueiredo-Moreno pay-per-view.
"I feel like it could play out a lot of different ways, but I think the most important thing for me is a victory – and the main thing, I want a finish," Royval said. "How I've been justifying it in my head is if I can go out there, finish Askarov, that almost cancels out my Pantoja loss, and I could kind of argue for a rematch against Pantoja, which is something I really want. That's probably one of my main goals, is to go back and run that back with Pantoja.
"That being said, I think Pantoja is obviously probably the most deserving of the title, even more than Moreno, who has the interim belt. I think Pantoja is probably the most deserving, and it's like, if I can fight him on the same card that Moreno and 'Figgy' are fighting on for the the actual belt, if I can kind of hit that undercard, then I'll match myself up perfectly for a title shot within the year."
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.