Octagon Oracles: Former RIZIN bantamweight champion Manel Kape

Manel Kape poses with a winner's trophy. Credit: RIZIN.

On Saturday, February 6, former RIZIN Fighting Federation bantamweight champion Manel Kape (15-4) will make his UFC debut, facing Ultimate Fighter veteran Alexandre Pantoja (22-5) at flyweight.

In this piece, several of MMA-Prospects’ staff writers will give their predictions for how each prospect making their debut in the coming weekend will face during their UFC tenure.

Manel Kape

Manel Kape (15-4) is coming to the UFC this Saturday from the Japanese promotion RIZIN Fighting Federation. Kape has been in the cage with the likes of former RIZIN champion Kai Asakura (twice), Ian McCall, Daniel Barez, Takeya Mizugaki, Ulka Sasaki, and the current RIZIN and former Bellator champion, Kyoji Horiguchi.

Kape is on a current three-fight win streak, beating Kai Asakura in the rematch for the vacant RIZIN title in his last fight before being signed to the UFC.

The first Luso-Angolan fighter to fight for the UFC, Kape trains out of AKA Thailand in Phuket, Thailand under head coach and former UFC fighter Mike Swick and other good fighters.

Kape will be fighting the fifth-ranked flyweight, Alexandre Pantoja (22-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC), a clear sign of the UFC’s evaluation of his talent.

Shawn Bitter

Grade: A

Kape is an excellent fighter and one of the best signings in 2020 by the UFC. He’s well-rounded, but better on the feet, in my opinion. From time to time, Kape will engage in takedowns; on the mat, Kape does hold five submission victories. On the feet, Kape displays athleticism, speed, explosiveness, and diversity. I only see Kape losing to top-level guys, which explains my grade.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Joseph Shaw

Grade: A

Kape is a fantastic prospect to watch out for. He is being thrown right into the deep end against Alexander Pantoja this weekend, and he is hoping for a dream to start to his UFC career. Kape has wins over former bantamweight RIZIN champion Kai Asakura and a win over former flyweight UFC title contender Ian McCall. I believe he’s exactly what the flyweight division needs; he could be a massive signing and addition to this new rebuild of the flyweight division. He has very good wins and lost to top-tier talent in Kyoji Horiguchi.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Vince Rodemer

Grade: A

I like Kape as a prospect because of his level of competition. I like Kape’s speed, power, and all-around game. I believe he can win a fight anywhere. The knockout of Kai Asakura on New Year’s Eve 2019 was lethal. I trust RIZIN a lot more than I trust the Indiana regional scene. The issue with Kape is that the bantamweight division is stacked. I think he would be a dog against anyone in the Top 5. I feel like he settles as a Top 10 guy in this division and I’m interested in seeing him if he sticks at flyweight, where he is definitely a Top 5 guy.

We will find out quickly if he’s a Top 5 guy though since Pantoja is currently ranked No. 5. He’s definitely behind the champion, Deiveson Figueiredo; Brandon Moreno, former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt if and when he comes down, and probably Alex Perez.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Zac Herbison

Grade: B

Kape’s had heavy, heavy hands since his pro debut; it feels like everything else has had to catch up. His grappling seems to have steadily improved over time. It seems in the last year or two, it really started to come together. His rematch with Kai Asakura for the RIZIN bantamweight title featured him mixing in more takedowns and clinching. His cardio looks competitive with the best of the UFC flyweight division. His footwork, however, worries me – he often finds himself running into the ropes in RIZIN after missing a strike. I also wonder how he’ll fare in the wrestling-heavy meta you find in the UFC’s lighter weight classes.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Joe McDonagh

Grade: A-

A home-run signing for the UFC, adding to the ever-talented and deep bantamweight division. Kape is well rounded, has strong striking, and faced tougher competition than most prospects his age.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Kristen King

Grade: A

Kape is coming into the UFC with a lot of hype behind him, and it is completely warranted. He has made a name for himself in the Japanese-based promotion RIZIN with spectacular performances over names like Ian McCall, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kai Asakura. Kape is at his best when he is on the feet and can surprise you with his effectiveness on the ground if the fight does indeed go there. While he has been tested before in fights like the ones against Kyoji Horiguchi and Ulka Sasaki, I still believe he fares well in the flyweight division.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Joshua Yule

Grade: A+

Kape is barely a prospect; it’s hard to think of a better way to walk into the flyweight division in the UFC than with the RIZIN bantamweight belt. That being said, his win over Kai’s had some of the shine taken off of it by Kyoji avenging his loss. There are also a few more unknowns, like Kape losing his shoes and also having to cut more. Pantoja is a pretty stiff ask and I think will really test Kape’s gas tank at 125. Pantoja’s pretty difficult to put out, and Kape tends to be a frontrunner. But we’ll see, I think he has a lot of potential.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Charlie Vann

Grade: A

Kape is a striker that provides nothing but artistry on the feet. He’s elusive and is quick to get in and out. He closes distance very well and delivers vicious accuracy of punches. Kape is 11-4, most of those 11 wins are by stoppage. One of those wins was over former WEC bantamweight contender Takeya Mizugaki in RIZIN. One of his four losses is to Kyoji Horiguchi, who is arguably one of the best bantamweights on the planet.

If Kape can create sufficient takedown defense, and stay strong in clinch exchanges, and find separation he will be tough to deal with at flyweight. His strength and accuracy should make him a force. I won’t say title contender yet, till I see him more on the ground, but he has been known to make some submission attempts. Excited to see how his debut goes.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion

Gary Friel

Grade: B

When you look through Kape’s record, he does have a fairly recent loss to Ulka Sasaki which isn’t the best. However, MMA is such a huge game of confidence, and being fresh off of a second-round stoppage of Kai Asakura and a three-fight win streak, Kape has never had more belief in his ability.

While he has an absolutely brutal debut opponent in Alexandre Pantoja, I feel that a loss here isn’t hugely damaging and a win will send him to the moon. Flyweight is a weird weight class because you have someone like Brandon Moreno who’s just had that crazy draw for the title, but also has both TUF and UFC losses to Pantoja. I am rooting for Kape here but wouldn’t be surprised at all if he loses, however, I think he’s going to remain in and around the top fighters consistently for a while.

Out Within 1-2 Years
50/50 Winner
Bonus Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Top 15
Top 10
Top 5
Title Contender
Champion