Manel Kape was looking for a second chance to make his first impression at UFC Vegas 21. Stepping in on short notice, the former RIZIN champ was hoping to erase the memory of a disappointing loss to Alexandre Pantoja in his octagon debut last month. Opponent Matheus Nicolau, meanwhile, was hoping to make a good second impression of his own. After being dumped by the UFC despite posting a 3-1 record in his first run, a result of flyweight’s dwindling popularity at the time, Nicolau was returning and looking to make a statement in the red-hot 125lb division.
Early on, Matheus Nicolau showed a glimpse of his game plan, briefly changing levels — no doubt with the takedown on his mind. Kape was light on his feet, but ate a couple of calf kicks from the Brazilian. Nicolau then drove for a takedown, driving Kape into the fence before throwing him down in a body bock. Nicolau then went to work in guard, and passed to half-guard while Kape worked up. Nicolau then jumped into a guillotine, but Kape slipped out.
He wouldn’t stay standing long. After eating another calf kick, Kape was once again taken to the ground. Nicolau dropped a few punches as Kape looked for an arm-bar.
In the second, Kape was able to avoid a takedown and fire off a number of effective combinations. Kape’s uppercut was making Nicolau think twice about changing levels. His left hand then stunned Nioclau. Another left moments later did more damage. Kape then tagged the body several times, looking like an entirely different fighter than the one who turned up in the opening round. When Nicolau did manage to drive into a takedown at get Kape down, “Starboy” was almost immediately back to his feet.
The third round was a puzzle. Kape had success, but in a very close round, Nicolau was really neck-and-neck with him in terms of the stand-up battle. At one point, Kape had the opportunity to secure top position on a grounded Nicolau. But Kape chose to back off, letting the Brazilian back to his feet. Had he moved into the dominant position, he might had secured the round right there. Instead, it remained razor close to the bell, with Kape landing a solid knee towards the end. And in the end, Nicolau took the win on two judge’s scorecards.
Official Result: Matheus Nicolau def. Manel Kape via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)