Matheus Nicolau willing to cut weight twice in one week for UFC 301 backup spot

Matheus Nicolau headlines Saturday’s UFC Vegas 91 card seven days before UFC champion Alexandre Pantoja puts his flyweight title on the line against Steve Erceg at UFC 301, and Nicolau is willing to serve as the backup fighter for the Rio de Janeiro event.

Nicolau battles Alex Perez in the main event of UFC Vegas 91 and told MMA Fighting that cutting down to 125 pounds twice in one week isn’t smart from a physiological standpoint, but could fast track him to the top of the division.

“If the UFC calls, we would do it,” Nicolau said. “I think it would be hard, but it’s possible [to make weight again on May 3]. It’s not a smart thing to do. Honestly, it would be one of those things that I would do hoping that nothing goes wrong [with Erceg] and I don’t have to fight, you know? Cutting weight twice in one week is hard for the body, your system, metabolism, and etc. But if the UFC gives me that opportunity, I can’t say no. If you want to fight for the belt, sometimes you have to take risks and jump on the opportunity.”

UFC hasn’t announced a backup plan for UFC 301’s championship bout. There were talks about Brandon Royval possibly serving as the backup, per sources, but ultimately that didn’t happen. Nicolau, who lives and trains in Rio de Janeiro, believes claiming that position could earn him a chance against the UFC 301 main event winner.

Nicolau’s recent loss to Royval ended a six-fight winning streak that included victories over the likes of Manel Kape, Tim Elliott, and Matt Schnell.

“‘Did you make me cut weight for nothing? At least give me a title shot after,’” Nicolau said with a laugh. “The fact that the title fight is so close to my fight puts me on the same timeline of the champion and that helps, no doubt about it.”

Nicolau picks Pantoja to retain his flyweight title in Rio de Janeiro, but warns his former teammate that Erceg is a dangerous foe.

Erceg enters the bout with a 12-1 pro record and is 3-0 since joining UFC in June 2023, having climbed the ranks with wins over David Dvorak, Alessandro Costa, and Matt Schnell.

“Being ranked No. 10 doesn’t mean he’s an easy fight,” Nicolau said of Erceg. “He’s tough and he’s coming in hungry to give his all and win. He’s dangerous on the feet and in the grappling area, and he’s big for the division. He appears to be strong for the division too, so it’s definitely going to be a big challenge for Pantoja, but I’m hoping that Pantoja wins.”

Nicolau could insert himself in the title discussion with a win over Perez, and he sees the American as a tricky opponent despite the fact that Perez enters the cage on a three-fight losing streak, having fallen to Deiveson Figueiredo, Pantoja, and Muhammad Mokaev.

“I see him as a super tough opponent,” Nicolau said. “I see him as I see every man I fight, as the most important and difficult fight of my life. Even though he lost his last three, those were losses to tough opponents, one of them being the champion. His last one was against Mokaev, a rising prospect, and he was able to stop his grappling, and some people think he won.

“He’s a dangerous guy, and a great challenge for the first five-round fight of my career. I’ve always said that I would like to be in a five-round main event before fighting for the belt because that benefits my style. I’m a patient guy who will have time to build to the victory. And it’s obvious that being the main event, you’re in the spotlight and have more attention on you, and that’s important for a title fight. I’m super motivated and happy with this challenge.”

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