Manel Kape is getting a second chance to make a first impression and probably sooner than expected.
The UFC announced this week that the former RIZIN bantamweight champion will step in as a short-notice replacement for Tagir Ulanbekov to face Matheus Nicolau (15-2-1) in a flyweight bout on March 13. This is the second time that a scheduled meeting between Ulanbekov and Nicolau has been cancelled. The reason for the change is not yet known.
Kape (15-5) was unsuccessful in his UFC debt five weeks ago as he dropped a unanimous decision to top-10 flyweight contender Alexandre Pantoja. “Starboy” was coming off of an impressive run in RIZIN, where he scored consecutive knockouts of Kai Asakura, Takeya Mizugaki, and Seiichiro Ito.
Nicolau returns to the UFC after being cut by the promotion in 2018 following a knockout loss to Dustin Ortiz. He scored a pair of wins in 2019 competing for Brave Combat Federation and Future Fighting Championships, then saw a bout with Jose Torres in March of last year cancelled following the outbreak of COVID-19. He was initially supposed to fight Ulanbekov at UFC 257, but Ulanbekov withdrew for undisclosed reasons.
In his first run with the UFC, Nicolau went 3-1 with notable wins over one-time flyweight challenger John Moraga and Louis Smolka.