Brandon Royval doesn’t like to discuss it, but caught up in the emotions of the biggest victory of his career Saturday night — in a fight many felt was unjustly buried on the UFC Fight Night prelims — it just slipped out.
“My brothers can’t watch this because they’re currently incarcerated,” the victorious flyweight contender blurted out to ESPN reporter Heidi Androl, before taking a deep breath to compose himself.
“They don’t have ESPN+ where they’re at, but they have ESPN. And I was like, I’ll do anything to get us off the prelims, so I was trying to get us off the prelims and try to get my brothers to watch this fight, and they can’t.
“I’ll never fight on the f–king prelims again,” Royval, nicknamed “Raw Dawg,” declared to punctuate the raw emotional moment in which his guard briefly fell.
Royval’s victory over Matheus Nicolau via didn’t-see-it-coming knee and follow-up shots in Kansas City, Mo., set him up for the opportunity to be next in line for a championship fight at 125 pounds.
Royval, who is 15-6 with 13 finishes, had no intention of letting the world in on his family’s hardships, telling The Post via Zoom on Tuesday that was the first time he had ever brought up his brothers’ situation.
“I don’t really talk about it too much,” Royval says. “I feel like I was really emotional, and I kind of, like, switched to that. But, you know, it was a big motivating factor [not fighting on the main card].”
Before committing full-time to his mixed martial arts career upon arriving in the UFC during the throes of the pandemic in 2020, Royval had worked in Colorado’s juvenile justice system as a youth service specialist.
As such, Royval kidded that placing his fight in a more prominent spot on the main card and, thus, on ESPN’s television broadcast would have been smart from a ratings standpoint.
“In the Colorado jail system, between me working at a juvie for years and, you know, me having family [members] that have spent a lot of time in jail, it’s just, I do numbers there,” he said, ending with a laugh. “I get numbers with the jail system.”
Joking aside, Royval wasn’t quite as concerned with his placement on the fight card until he learned a few days before his bout that the prelims would only be accessible through streaming on ESPN+.
Given that Royval didn’t think he deserved to be on the preliminary card to begin with, one can understand why the phrase, “What the hell?” came to mind when he learned his silver lining of his brothers watching him compete was gone.
Royval credits older brother Darian with putting him on jiu-jitsu and the path to mixed martial arts.
That’s why it particularly stung that Darian wouldn’t be able to watch Brandon’s biggest shot at earning a title fight — which he says the UFC told him ahead of time would come his way with a victory.
“I wouldn’t be doing MMA without my brother,” a matter-of-fact Royval said. “My brother and I started this s–t together. In my opinion, he could have been one of the best flyweights in the world, too, and he chose to lessen himself throughout his life. But that being said … me and him could have been way bigger than the Figgy brothers [Francisco and former flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo]. I genuinely believe that. We started this together, and we watched fights together, we trained together, we drilled together, and we did this s–t for years.
“And it’s like, every time I go fight, I bring him in there with me. I bring our dreams in there together.”
The subject of Royval’s brothers did not come up in his scrum with reporters that night, but he made no secret of his displeasure with such an important fight in the context of the 125-pound division was buried more than four hours before the main event between former featherweight champion Max Holloway and contender Arnold Allen.
In reaction to that, typically bombastic UFC president Dana White offered something rare from him: A mea culpa.
“In my green room, I said, “We f–ked this up,’ ” White told reporters at the event’s conclusion with regard to the placement of Royval vs. Nicolau. “This kid should open the show [on the main card] tonight.”
The fact that he got an admission of guilt from the boss eased Royval’s pain some.
But even the idea of opening on ESPN doesn’t seem right to Royval, who agreed “completely” with the suggestion that a fight such as this one could have headlined a non-pay-per-view Fight Night card.
Men’s flyweight fights without a championship on the line rarely headline UFC cards, with the last one coming in August 2017.
Also giving solace to Royval is the promise of serving as the backup fighter for July’s championship fight between champion Brandon Moreno and Alexandre Pantoja — the only two men to defeat him in the UFC — and to fight the winner thereafter if the principles make weight and compete.
“I think I’m better than both of these guys anyway,” said Royval, expressing confidence he can reverse the results in either potential rematch. “I think I can outstrike both of them, and I think my jiu-jitsu is better than both of them.”
And, perhaps best of all for the UFC contender, Royval’s brothers managed to witness his electrifying, $50,000 bonus-winning knockout after all.
“They found a way to watch a clip of it, so they saw the knockout,” said Royval, breaking out into a wide smile. “I don’t really know what happened or how it led up to that, but they found the clip. … I was happy about that.”
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