Manel Kape’s UFC debut has been a long time coming. A former RIZIN Fighting Federation bantamweight champ, Kape’s signing last year got MMA fans excited the moment it was announced.
Then the waiting started.
A fight in August with Rogerio Bontorin fell through due to an injury suffered by the Brazilian. Kape was then paired up with another Brazilian, Alexandre Pantoja, in December. Once again, his opponent pulled out. The 15-4 Kape was then given back-up fighter duties at UFC 256, successfully making championship weight. But the main event title fight between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno went off without a hitch.
Through it all, Kape told Cageside Press this week during a virtual media day to promote his long-awaited debut at UFC Vegas 18 that he never became frustrated. At least not after the first fight fell through.
“It’s not frustrating. First time, my fight camp, when it was cancelled, maybe I can say it was frustrating,” explained Kape. “But I always think that maybe it happened for something good, that will be in the future.” When his second fight also fell through, Kape kept pushing in training, he continued, believing that something better would come along. He was right: the chance to serve as back-up for a title fight.
When he was offered the back-up spot for the UFC 256 flyweight title fight, Kape’s reaction was that it was God’s plan. Even if his services were ultimately not required, that holds true. Because all that added training has had an added benefit: Kape believes he has rounded out his game. “I always [thought] that I was good, but now I’m feeling [like a] very complete fighter.”
Ahead of his debut, which finally appears to be upon us, the fighter from Angola, raised in Portugal, told us that “I feel good, I feel excited. It’s been a long time for my debut, and finally I’m here. And I feel so excited and ready to show the world who I am.”
Who Kape is, bluntly, is a very good prospect in the flyweight division. One who holds wins over some of the best fighters in Japan’s RIZIN, including Kai Asakura, Ian McCall, and Takeya Mizugaki. He’s shared the cage with other UFC alums as well: Ulka Sasaki, and most notably, Kyoji Horiguchi.
Facing that level of competition appears to have given Kape the confidence he requires to explode onto the scene in the UFC. Finally throwing down with a top flyweight in Pantoja, Kape recognizes that his opponent is formidable.
“I’m looking for a great battle. I know Pantoja’s a tough guy,” he stated. “But I see some limitations in his game that I can take good advantage of.” As to what those limitations are, Kape explained that he is a smarter, more complete fighter, while Pantoja is limited by being a slower fighter than the competition Kape has previously faced. “He has nothing that I’ve never seen before in his game,” said Kape. “But always, I never underestimate nobody. Never. But I’m sure that I’m better than him, 100%.”
And the end goal? While future fights at bantamweight are possible, right now it’s the flyweight championship. “I’m looking for the champion. This is my goal,” said Kape. “I came here to be the champion, not to be one more fighter in the UFC.”
“Saturday night, I’ll show why I say that in the future I will be a champion,” he added. “I have the reasons, I have the game, I have everything on my side.” It’s a goal Kape hopes to achieve by the end of 2021. That journey starts Saturday.
Manel Kape debuts against Alexandre Pantoja at UFC Vegas 18 (UFC Fight Night 184) this Saturday, February 6 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV.