Manel Kape couldn’t imagine a better way to kick off 2024 than by avenging one of his only two UFC losses.
On Saturday at UFC Vegas 84, “Starboy” clashes with Matheus Nicolau for the second time after their initial encounter ended in a controversial split decision. Despite every single media member scoring the fight for Kape (via MMA Decisions), two of the three judges opted to pick Nicolau.
Less than three years later, Kape can’t wait to settle the score with Nicolau once and for all.
“It’s a fight that I’ve wanted for a long time to get my revenge and actually to prove the result in the last fight was wrong,” Kape, who’s won his past four, told MMA Fighting. “Nicolau is in a good position to take his spot, so it’s good for me.”
It’s not always easy to predict rematches like this one, but Kape feels the UFC probably didn’t give Nicolau much of a choice in the matter. Despite Nicolau’s win in their first encounter, Kape doesn’t see the Brazilian as a threat, much less an entertaining opponent – a trait the UFC wants from all of its fighters.
“I don’t believe he’s a guy that the UFC wants him so much, because let’s speak the truth — he’s boring,” Kape said. “He makes boring fights all the time. Of course, he frustrates his opponents, and he does very well, but it’s not a big show, like a good fight. It’s boring.
“This pressure is going to kill him. He lost his last fight, and he accepted the fight against me. It’s very dangerous for him. This style doesn’t help him. He’s going to be under big pressure. I know my way and my path very well right now. I just think about victory all the time.”
To add to that, Kape knows Nicolau has to hate hearing that the last fight between them was a robbery so he’s probably interested in the rematch to settle a score. Unfortunately for him, Kape promises there will be no questions raised about the winner this time around.
“This is why he accepted the [rematch] — he knows he didn’t win the fight,” Kape said. “In the post-fight interview, you can see clear, he was not convinced he won the fight. The fighters know when you win and when you lose, and of course, he wants this so much. He already hears a lot that he didn’t win the fight.
“Credit to him for having the balls to accept this fight, [and] he wants to show the people that ‘I can beat this guy,’ but it’s not going to happen. He accepted because he has his doubts.”
If all goes well on Saturday, Kape wants to continue his revenge tour with the only other fighter to hold a win over him in the UFC: reigning flyweight champ Alexandre Pantoja.
They met in Kape’s octagon debut back in 2021, and it definitely wasn’t the fight or the impression he wanted to make after first arriving in the UFC. There’s no personal grudge there necessarily, but Kape couldn’t have scripted it better to get Nicolau and hopefully move onto a title shot rematch with Pantoja later this year.
“It’s the perfect combo,” Kape said. “I thought about this yesterday. Guess what? I’m very good in rematches. I truly believe I’m better than both. We know Nicolau is a guy that runs away a lot in the cage. He’s a counter guy, but he actually doesn’t represent any danger to me at all. We fought, and he didn’t represent any danger in any situation in the fight. I’m just going to be better, cut his angles and get the knockout. I’m going to finish this fight. It’s not going to be with the judges, and then it’s Pantoja.
“Pantoja has showed a lot of weakness in his game. His last fight was good, but I can do better than him. It’s the perfect combo.”
Kape recognizes the mistakes he made when falling to Pantoja, but he’s come a long way since then. He’s also kept a watchful eye on the Brazlian in anticipation that they would meet again.
“He’s a high-level fighter, but he takes too many shots,” Kape said about Pantoja. “If [his recent]fight was against me, one shot, he was dead. The shot he took from Brandon Royval, you can see Brandon Royval is a skinny guy, not very powerful, he’s just unpredictable. An awkward fighter and a fight against Brandon Royval is the same example against somebody who doesn’t know how to fight, an amateur guy. He’s going to hurt you because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. This is what I think of Brandon Royval and he connected with a very, very good shot on Pantoja.
“I looked at that fight, and I was thinking if that was me, he was already done. No one can handle two or three punches of mine. This gives me more motivation. I know the way to beat Pantoja. We just have to take the time. I’m not going to think about Pantoja right now, but it’s coming.”