Brandon Royval didn’t hesitate to say yes when approached to make his UFC debut against flyweight contender Tim Elliott this weekend in Las Vegas. It was the call he was chasing from the time he first put the gloves on, and the opponent, location or training camp time didn’t matter. The only thing missing in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic was a proper celebration.
“There was definitely no eating or drinking for me because it was a week away,” said Royval, who instead made a couple phone calls of his own, relaxed that night and prepared to go back to work. “I called my parents and two of my friends and chilled on it for a little bit. I sat back and thought about it and let it soak in.”
In the process, he realized just what fighting someone like Elliott truly means.
“This is a good opportunity to catch fifty thousand, too,” he laughed. “Performance of the Night, Fight of the Night, whatever it is, this is a great opportunity for both of us. Tim Elliott is a guy that's gonna come forward and throw a bunch of punches. He's gonna try to be exciting, and that's a great matchup for me because I'm gonna do the same.”
With those comments alone, it’s easy to see why fans are excited to see Royval make his UFC debut. To some, it’s a debut long in the making, going back to the 27-year-old’s early days in the LFA, where he fought his last eight bouts, going 6-2. Along the way, he competed on cards containing several fighters who would go on to the big show, either directly or through Dana White’s Contender Series.
On one of those cards in May 2018, he beat Jerome Rivera on a night where current UFC fighters Ian Heinisch, Maycee Barber, Austin Hubbard and Youssef Zalal all scored wins. But despite being surrounded by all that talent, Royval didn’t believe he was ready for the Octagon just yet.
“Not off that card,” he said. “Off that card I was earning my way up. I knew I didn't belong there at that time. I needed to make my record look a little prettier before I did anything.”
Winning three of his next four, with the only loss coming to another current UFC fighter in Casey Kenney, was all the pretty Royval’s record needed, but capturing the LFA flyweight belt did add the required bling, and after that title-winning effort against Nate Williams last November, he knew he was ready.
“With the LFA belt, there's almost a call-up for a lot of those guys, so I got really hopeful then,” Royval said. “And I knew I belonged. I know my skillset is there and I put in a lot of work to be there too. I believe in myself and I believe that I belong there, and you hope that you get that call, but even when my manager told me, it was utter shock, still.”
That was then. The shock has worn off now and the Colorado native has a fight to get ready for. A big one.
“I'm going to the UFC and fighting a big name,” he said. “He (Elliott) is ranked 11th, so it's a great opportunity for me right off the bat.”
“I'm an exciting fighter,” he says matter-of-factly. “As much as I want to sit back and be technical and pick people apart, which is something that I'm capable of, when that bell rings, I am not capable of doing it. (Laughs) I go forward and I throw punches and I probably risk too much, but that leads to a lot of finishes and a lot of exciting fights and a little bit of a fan base.”
Expect that fan base to grow if he delivers on his promise. Then again, if you’ve seen Royval fight before, you know it’s not an “if” with him, but a “when.” It almost makes it crazy to believe that the moments before a fight aren’t his greatest.
I ask him if he’s prepared to put the emotions of his first UFC fight night in check.
“My emotions are put in check on a normal fight,” Royval laughs. “My last fight, I was pretty much running through walls, and my coach (Factory X’s Marc Montoya) is really good at evening me out. You see some fighters and they need to get smacked in the face before they go out there. I'm one of those fighters that need to calm the f**k down. (Laughs) They need to calm me down. I'm an emotional wreck before I fight, so I don't know how I'm gonna deal with it, but I'm sure my coach will be helpful. He's been with me for a long time and he knows me as a fighter and as a person, and I'm sure it will be somewhat the same.”
Then it’s go-time for the “Raw Dawg." Business as usual.