Alexandre Pantoja now has first-hand experience with what millions of people around the world have and continue to go through.

The UFC flyweight contender caught COVID-19, which forced him out of his contest against former RIZIN champion Manel Kape for UFC Fight Night 183 on Dec. 19. And unlike some fighters, who have caught the virus, experienced mild symptoms, and bounced back to get quickly rescheduled, Pantoja (22-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC) had a tough time battling with the virus.

“COVID put an end to a scheduled fight,” Pantoja told MMA Junkie in Portuguese. “I caught the illness some two weeks back. I had nearly every symptom, except for lack of oxygen. I had a fever that lasted an entire week. I felt very unwell. I tried to get back to training, but it wasn’t possible. I felt very fatigued, which never happens otherwise. I lost my senses of taste and smell.

“This an illness that’s hard to believe until you catch it. Once you do catch it, you see how harmful it can be. It affected me greatly. I was looking forward to showcasing my skills against Manel Kape. Manel is very competitive and likes to move forward, like I do. He also likes to put on a show.”

Pantoja said the bout with Kape is in the works to get rebooked for sometime in February.

The Brazilian was last seen in action in July when he fell short in a decision to Askar Askarov. The 30-year-old was 4-1 in his last five bouts before the Askarov setback, with his lone defeat coming to the current champion Deiveson Figueiredo.

Despite coming off a defeat, Pantoja feels hopeful looking at the current state of the UFC’s 125-pound division. Once on the verge of getting eliminated form the UFC roster, the division has turned a corner, at least that’s how Pantoja feels.

“I’m very excited about the way the UFC refreshed the flyweight division,” Pantoja said. “They’ve added great fighters – I believe I’m one of them. We’re fighters who always look for a KO or submission, and we’re making the division stand out even more. Our weight class used to be very critiqued. I never saw it in a negative way. I always saw a very competitive division, from Demetrious Johnson, one of the greatest of all time, to Olympic champion Henry Cejudo who held two UFC belts. Other fighters like Joseph Benavidez also did a beautiful job.

“And after Deiveson Figueiredo showed up, he cleaned out the division. I had a tough fight against him. I made a few errors. I want to get back to my winning ways. I still have a lot to show. Unfortunately, I’m coming off a loss to Askar Askarov, who fought me in a very ‘bureaucratic’ way. It was the type of fight no one gets excited about, and no one wants to see. But he was efficient, nullified my game, and got the win.

“Overall, our weight class has been doing great. We’re putting on a strong showing. Many of the fights are ending via finish, and many flyweight fighters have earned ‘of the night’ bonuses. I see great fighters like Kai Kara France, and Brandon Royval who just fought Brandon Moreno. They’re all doing a great job. I feel very happy for our division.”