Manel Kape’s Crazy UFC Career Thusfar

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Manel Kape has potentially had one of the strangest UFC careers of anyone in recent memory. Joining the organisation with a lot of hype back in 2020, Kape’s career hasn’t exactly gone to plan. He had an established career for Rizin and picked up the Vacant Bantamweight Championship with a big win over Kai Asakura, someone who was on a good run of form at the time.

Since joining the UFC, however, Kape’s story has been a rollercoaster. Eight cancelled fights, two weight misses and homophobic slurs were somewhat masked by good performances in the octagon.

We take a look at his brief UFC career thusfar and make a claim as to what the future might hold for ‘Starboy’.

Manel Kape’s Delayed Debut & Disappointing Start

The reigning Rizin bantamweight champion was scheduled to compete against Rogerio Bontorin in his UFC debut. Many fans and media alike were excited about the potential of the flyweight contender. At the time, the flyweight division’s history was still somewhat up in the air and was certainly crying out for new blood. Scheduled for international fight week on the huge UFC 252 card, Kape never made the walk due to an injury to his opponent. The bout was scrapped instead of trying to find Kape a new opponent.

Fear not, he was re-booked to make his debut in December 2020 on the UFC Vegas 17 fight night card. This time standing across from him would be future champion, Alexandre Pantoja. Bad luck would hit Kape again, however, as the Brazilian was forced to withdraw.

Luckily for Kape, the fight with Pantoja was rescheduled for two months later, however, the result wouldn’t go his way. The future champion continued the form that saw him eventually capture the belt. A unanimous decision saw Kape lose his debut.

His second UFC bout, unfortunately, would end in the same manner. Taking on Matheus Nicolau (we’ll come back to him later), Kape would suffer a split-decision loss in a fight that many thought he had done enough to win. An 0-2 star is not exactly how ‘starboy’ anticipated his career beginning in the UFC.

Wins, More Cancelled Fights and Homophobic Slurs

Kape would eventually get to winning ways in the UFC, however, there would be an asterisk next to his first win. At UFC 265, Kape would clash with Ode Osbourne and win by spectacular flying knee, however, wouldn’t be awarded a post-fight bonus. He weighed in at 129lbs for a scheduled flyweight bout, meaning that he wasn’t eligible for the extra $50K.

Zhalgas Zhumagulov came next and like Osbourne, was dispatched by Kape via knockout. Zhumagulov, like Osbourne before him, wouldn’t see a second round.

The heavy-hitting, experienced Sumudaerji was next, however, Kape withdrew from the fight. It later came to light that he tested positive for an M3 metabolite, which could potentially keep him out of action for a prolonged period. Luckily for Kape, however, he was still eligible to compete against Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 275.

That’s when his luck dried up, however. Bontorin would suffer a botched weight cut, causing him to withdraw from the scheduled bout. For those keeping count, Kape now has four cancelled fights to his name in the UFC and four actual fights.

He would return six months later in a winning effort against David Dvorak, this time, it went the full 15 minutes. Enjoying a three-fight winning run, Kape was full of confidence when he was matched with former title challenger, Alex Perez. The weight cut went fine, however, on fight night, Kape’s opponent, Perez, suffered seizures, forcing him out of the fight.

Was it a blessing in disguise for Kape, as he was then briefly matched with the former champion, Deiveson Figueiredo, in a far more high-profile fight. The Brazilian wouldn’t be medically cleared to fight and this one would be cancelled. *We’re now up to six cancelled fights*

Kai-Kara France would be next for the former Rizin man, however, like Perez and Figueiredo before him, Kara-France wouldn’t make the octagon walk. He suffered from concussion symptoms, forcing him out of the fight. The New Zealander was replaced at late notice with the promotional newcomer, Felipe dos Santos. During the press conference, Kape would get into it with Kara-France and Kara-France’s teammate and the middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya in what was one of the stranger goings-on in 2023. He would go on to defeat dos Santos via decision and the victory earned him his first fight of the night bonus.

After the fight, however, Kape would proceed to call out Kara-France and throw out homophobic slurs towards Kara-France’s team, City Kickboxing in an extremely ugly exchange. Commanding the mic, Kape stated:

“I was supposed to fight Kai-Kara, you‘re a piece of s***! I’m going to fight you next and if you refuse again to fight me, I’m going to your city, I’m going to your academy and I’m going to spar you there. All your teammates are f******.”

Not a good look… at all.

2024 and Looking Ahead

2024 was shaping up like a potentially big year for Manel Kape. Enjoying a four-fight winning run, he was scheduled for a rematch with Matheus Nicolau on the first card of the year. A win here would have put him in an extremely strong position in the weight class. The #6 ranked flyweight could have made multiple appearances this year, however, missed weight (again) ahead of the first fight card of the year. His opponent, Nicolau didn’t take too kindly to this:

“Kape was irresponsible, reckless and disrespectful. He disrespected me, as a sports colleague, opponent and martial artist. He disrespected MMA. Disrespected the UFC. Disrespected companies that support the sport. But most of all, he disrespected you, UFC fan and MMA fan”

So what does 2024 now look like for Kape? After missing weight for the second time in five fights, the UFC may force him up a weight division to bantamweight. This isn’t likely, however, as the flyweight division still needs stars, of which Kape is to a degree. We can expect plenty of controversy surrounding ‘starboy’. He’s never far away from it.

Weight misses? History would suggest so. Drug bans? Hopefully not. #1 contenders bout? Not just yet. Plenty of ups and downs? Absolutely.

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Frazer Krohn has been with MMASucka for nearly 5 years. He is the host of the MMASucka podcast, which is released every Monday. He's the author of a series of six books about MMA, which were published in 2023.

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