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Robbery Review: Matheus Nicolau vs. Manel Kape at UFC Vegas 21

Matheus Nicolau and Manel Kape
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. With Robbery Review, we’ll take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.

Outside of a stray scorecard here and there, we’ve been fortunate to see consistent judging and rightful winners over the past few events at the UFC APEX. Perhaps the lack of a crowd has allowed the ringside scorers to key in on the action without distraction, leading to a welcome run of mostly controversy-free fights. Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome sight, even if it’s robbed you, the reader, of new Robbery Reviews.

Fortunately (or unfortunately for one of the participants), Saturday’s UFC Vegas 21 main card tilt between Matheus Nicolau and Manel Kape produced an outcome that had plenty of us watching at home raising our eyebrows. It was a closely contested fight with a distinct ebb and flow, so you could probably see the split call coming, but there were still commenters who were disappointed with the judges’ decision and felt Kape had done enough to earn his first UFC win.

Here was the initial fighter reaction:

Let’s get to breaking down the first Robbery Review-worthy fight of the year so far.

What was the official result?

Matheus Nicolau def. Manel Kape via split decision.

How did the fight go?

Rounds one and two aren’t up for debate. Kape threatened with his striking early, but it took Nicolau a little less than two minutes to score a takedown. From there, Kape did a good job of avoiding significant damage on the ground and getting the fight back to the feet. Soon after, Nicolau caught a knee and took Kape down again. He was busy enough with his ground-and-pound to take round one.

Kape was considerably sharper in round two. He blasted Nicolau with a perfectly timed uppercut right out of the gate and watching it again, I’m not entirely sure how Nicolau wasn’t dropped. Kape’s hand speed is just scary. To Nicolau’s credit, he had his arms up deflecting a lot of the shots. A blink-and-you-missed-it check left hook had Nicolau off-balance and stumbling. We were finally seeing the version of Kape that tore through RIZIN. Nicolau was landing too, but it looked like Kape was doing more damage. Clear round for Kape and we’re tied heading into the third.

One element I definitely overlooked watching this fight live was Kape’s kicks. He opened round three with a few good ones to Nicolau’s lead leg and body. Nicolau scored with a left cross on the button, then a right hook. Kape has an excellent chin and a tendency to just walk through punches. Nicolau went all-out for a takedown and ended up on his back. At this point the commentary suggested that Kape should dive into the guard of Nicolau, a noted Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert with two Japanese necktie submissions to his name. Questionable.

Regardless, scooting wasn’t going to win Nicolau the round. His striking confidence is a major asset however and he took the fight to Kape for much of round three, landing a clean left hand and an inside leg kick that nearly caused Kape to trip onto his face. He has Kape swinging at air on more than one occasion. The final minute was a big one for Kape as he landed a crisp uppercut, a knee right up the middle, and then another knee to the body. Nicolau tagged him with a spinning back elbow and then ran out what was left of the clock to close out a fun fight.

What did the judges say?

Dave Hagen scored it 29-28 Kape.

Chris Lee scored it 29-28 Nicolau.

Bryan Miner scored it 29-28 Nicolau.

The third round was the decider, with Lee and Miner both giving it to Nicolau. Lee has become one of MMA’s more notorious judges and I saw him taking a lot more flack online than Miner. For those less familiar with Miner, he’s a Bellator mainstay who has also worked several UFC events in the past.

Miner hasn’t been involved in a split decision since Bellator 211 on Dec. 1, 2018. Lee was the dissenting score in eight fights last year, spanning 23 events for the UFC and Bellator.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

Close fight was close, apparently.

Kape edged out the significant strikes battle, winning in that category 61-55. Not exactly a blowout. Nicolau won the first round 7-2, with three of those strikes coming on the ground. Kape had the best round of the fight, winning round two 28-21 and also out-landed Nicolau in the third 31-27.

The advantage in head strikes goes to Kape 37-27 and he also went an impressive 14-of-14 in leg strikes. Nicolau won the body strike battle 21-10.

Neither fighter was credited with a knockdown. Nicolau earned two takedowns, both in round one.

What did the media say?

The media had this one as a shutout for Kape. Of the 22 media members who scored the fight on MMA Decisions, all saw it 29-28 in favor of Kape.

What did the people say?

(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)

The fan vote on MMA Decisions also leans heavily towards Kape, with 78.4 percent scoring the fight for him 29-28. There is some support for 29-28 Nicolau, but it’s a distant second at 16.2 percent.

Scoring of the first two frames was definitive with both garnering almost 100 percent of the vote for the respective rounds they won, while 80.7 percent thought Kape won round three.

On the Verdict MMA app, Kape was the winner by a comfortable, if not overwhelming margin.

That scoring system takes the cumulative total of every submitted fan score (filtering out aberrant scores like random 10-7s if they comprise less than one percent of the total) in every round and divides by the amount of submitted scores to determine the winner of each round and also in totality.

I usually consider a win of 100 points or more to be significant, though 81 points is a decent gap. It’s worth noting that Kape’s margin of victory is more due to his dominance in the second round than his work in the third. In fact, Verdict scoring had Nicolau farther ahead in round one than Kape was in round three. Voters still clearly favored Kape in two rounds though.

In MMA Fighting’s own poll that asked fans to pick a winner, 79 percent disagreed with the official decision.

How did I score it?

Kape is just so frustrating to watch. I get it. He’s a knockout artist, and in a perfect world, he wouldn’t have to deal with such trivial matters as “scoring” and “judging.” But this is the UFC we’re talking about and that means playing the game sometimes, so I just wish he’d find ways to fill the gaps better when he’s not unleashing one of his thrilling bursts of offense.

I still gave this fight to him 29-28, because on the second viewing I think he deserves more credit for his kicks. The knees at the end were just the exclamation point on a strong third-round performance.

So make it 23 media members now who saw this fight for Kape.

Was it a robbery?

Having presented what I feel is a pretty strong case for Kape, this is where I remove the last Jenga piece and send the whole tower crashing down.

You can make an argument for 29-28 Nicolau, and a good one too. He was hitting Kape a lot in the third round, which may have gone unrecognized at first glance because Kape has an outstanding chin. He walked through a lot of Nicolau’s heavier punches, but those heavier punches were landing all the same. I don’t know how you separate Kape’s kicks and knees from Nicolau’s counters.

If people want to point to Kape’s final flurry as the decider, that’s fine, but I would argue that not long before that it looked like Nicolau might pull away on the cards. There’s a stretch that’s about thirty seconds long from the 2:20-1:50 mark in the last round where Nicolau is just lighting Kape up. Seriously, watch it again, it’s an awesome sequence. How does that compare to Kape’s charge at the end? It’s too close to call.

You’d have to convince me that Kape won round three beyond a shadow of a doubt for me to break out the robbery stamp for this fight and I’m not seeing it.

The final verdict

Not a robbery.


Was Matheus Nicolau’s over Manel Kape a robbery?

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