5 Defining Moments: Manel Kape

Manel Kape has established himself as a formidable contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s flyweight division. The former Rizin Fighting Federation champion currently occupies the No. 6 spot in the UFC flyweight rankings and is widely recognized as a perennial threat in the 125-pound weight class. His well-rounded fighting style and diverse skill set, punctuated by unwavering confidence, contribute to his reputation as a force to be reckoned with inside the Octagon.

Kape will face Matheus Nicolau in a highly anticipated UFC Fight Night 234 rematch on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Their initial clash in March 2021 ended in a closely contested split decision, marking Kape’s last promotional loss. Following that setback, Kape has been on an impressive run, with four victories in as many fights. The upcoming rematch presents an opportunity for him to seek redemption and potentially propel himself closer to title contention.

As Kape aims to even his score with Nicolau, a look at five of the many moments that have come to define him:

1. A Matter of Fortitude

While Kape succumbed to a submission loss against Souksavanh Khampasath in his debut for the Knock Out Championship organization, his resilience shined through when he returned to the promotion a year later. Despite the initial setback, he rebounded spectacularly at KOC 8 on April 18, 2015. “Starboy” defeated Antoine Gallinaro with an armbar in the fourth round, laying claim to the KOC bantamweight championship.

2. Back in the Saddle

Kape weathered a turbulent period between 2015 and 2017, which included a two-year hiatus marked by three canceled bouts. The Luanda, Angola, native staged a remarkable return by signing with the Rizin Fighting Federation. His promotional debut unfolded in the Rizin bantamweight grand prix. Kape faced Erson Yamamoto and got under his opponent’s skin with audacious pre-fight trash-talk. The bout concluded in a mere 71 seconds, with a left leg head kick that resulted in a technical knockout. Some saw the stoppage as premature.

3. Golden Gate

Kape faced Kai Asakura in a rematch for the vacant Rizin Fighting Federation bantamweight title at Rizin 20. “Starboy” engaged in peculiar trash-talk and dramatically tore apart a cardboard cutout of Asakura, even going on to chew up the remnants. As the fight progressed, Asakura attempted to capitalize on his reach, while Kape opted for an aggressive approach. Kape’s approach resulted in a technical knockout victory through a relentless onslaught of punches in the second round. This triumph also secured him a “Fighter of the Year” nomination at the Asian MMA Awards.

4. Pathfinder

Kape encountered Ode Osbourne in a catchweight bout at UFC 265 on Aug. 6, 2021 after he missed weight, exceeding the flyweight non-title fight limit by three pounds. Kape incurred a 20% fine of his purse, and the fight progressed at a catchweight. The bout ended swiftly in the first round, with Kape delivering a stunning knockout. He initiated the finishing sequence with a perfectly executed flying knee and followed it with a barrage of punches. While the weight issue may have slightly marred the occasion, the triumph represented Kape’s first UFC victory and charted the path for a promising run in the organization.

5. Bonus Room

Kape was originally scheduled to face Kai Kara-France at UFC 293 on Sep. 9, 2023. However, Kara-France withdrew from the bout in due to a training-related concussion, paving the way for newcomer Felipe dos Santos to step in. Undeterred, Kape emerged victorious in the fight, securing a unanimous decision. This triumph also earned him his “Fight of the Night” bonus. Besides the victory, Kape gained notable recognition, largely attributed to his pre-fight banter with former UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and his controversial statements during the post-fight Octagon interview.

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Renan Ferreira