Matheus Nicolau done with Manel Kape bookings, focused on title shot after UFC on ESPN 55 headliner

LAS VEGAS – Matheus Nicolau has his eyes set on challenging for the UFC flyweight title, and Manel Kape is no longer a stop on that journey.

Nicolau (19-4-1 MMA, 7-2 UFC) headlines UFC on ESPN 55 (ESPN, ESPN+) at the UFC Apex this Saturday against former title challenger Alex Perez. It will be Nicolau’s first fight in a year, due to Kape being unable to make it to the cage for a pair of bookings. Luckily, Perez (24-8 MMA, 6-4 UFC) stepped up as a replacement.

“Right away when we got the news that Manel was out, we got frustrated,” Nicolau told reporters at Wednesday’s media day. “I was thinking about him since last year, like we started preparation around November, December because the fight was in the beginning of January.

“Right in the moment, you get frustrated, you get worried like, ‘Oh, is my fight going to get postponed? Is my fight going to get canceled? Are they going to get another opponent? Who are they going to get to fight? Is it a ranked guy or not?’ But on the same day, we closed the fight against Alex, so that was good, and right away I changed my mentality. I was already focused on Alex.”

Nicolau and Kape were scheduled for a rematch in January, but “Starboy” missed weight by 3.5 pounds, scrapping the fight. Their first meeting in March 2021 resulted in a split decision, going Nicolau’s direction. They were set again for April 27, but due to a rib injury, Kape was forced to pull out earlier in the month.

“Good thing was like four weeks before the fight, so we have enough time to make all the adjustments on the training, the strategy part, the technical part,” Nicolau said. “So, it was enough time to make all the adjustments that we needed and to be ready to get this victory.”

The winner of the UFC on ESPN 55 main event will likely be the next man up for a shot at the title Alexandre Pantoja currently holds. Steve Erceg will have his opportunity to become the new champion in the UFC 301 main event in Brazil on May 4.

Nicolau believes the timing of his main event, and the title fight following the next weekend will give the winner solid momentum to claim No. 1 contender status. If victorious, Nicolau will happily fly to Rio de Janeiro to be cageside for the main event, leaving any thought of Manel Kape in the rear view.

“Honestly, after the fight, I will be looking up,” Nicolau said. “That is the direction that I’m going, to the top of the mountain. I don’t want to think about Manel anymore.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 55.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie