In his return to the UFC, Matheus Nicolau got back in the win column but not without some controversy along the way.
The Brazilian went to war with Manel Kape for three rounds at UFC Vegas 21 but it appeared he absorbed more damage overall, especially in the second and third rounds respectively. Still, Nicolau’s willingness to trade shots with Kape and upping his volume in the third round seemed to do enough to sway the decision to his favor.
Two judges scored the fight 29-28 for Nicolau with the third official giving it 29-28 for Kape.
“It’s such an amazing feeling,” Nicolau said about the win. “I’ve been through a lot the last couple of years since I’ve been out. It’s so good to be here. I feel I could do a lot more but he caught me in the second round.
“It was a close fight. I’m not here to judge. That’s not my job. My job is to fight to the end and I did that. Flyweight division, I’m back.”
Following a couple of exchanges on the feet early, Nicolau found his way inside, which led to a well-timed body lock takedown to put Kape on his back. Nicolau followed that with another takedown later in the opening round that once again had Kape stuck playing defense.
Kape turned the tables in the second round after blasted Nicolau with a perfectly placed uppercut just as the Brazilian was starting to duck his head for a potential takedown attempt. Once Kape had Nicolau rattled from the punch, he went on the attack with some vicious combinations while hunting for the knockout with every shot thrown.
The output from Kape really had Nicolau in trouble as he was stuck fighting off his back foot, just trying to slow down his opponent’s momentum.
Kape continued to pour on the punishment in the final round, although Nicolau seemed to settle into the fire fight by throwing some heavy leather of his own in an attempt to even up the odds on the feet. It seems Nicolau’s ability to engage in those exchanges and increase his volume during those last five minutes impressed one of the judges enough to sway the score in his favor to get the split decision.
Nicolau is now riding a three-fight win streak overall combined with two victories he picked up outside the UFC before making his return on Saturday night. As for Kape, he falls to 0-2 inside the octagon after the former RIZIN fighter was a high profile addition to the roster in free agency.