Manel Kape and Matheus Nicolau | Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
UFC Vegas 21 was filled with controversy Saturday night, with Leon Edwards’ eye poke and Eryk Anders’ illegal knee leading to no-contests, and it was no different with Matheus Nicolau’s split-decision victory over Manel Kape.
Back in the octagon two and a half years after being cut by the UFC, Nicolau had his hand raised after two judges gave him the nod in rounds one and three. However, that was not the opinion of all 22 MMA journalists and outlets compiled by MMA Decision nor the majority of fans on Verdict.
Speaking with MMA Fighting on Sunday afternoon after re-watching the fight five times, Nicolau is adamant he won the third round, leading to a 29-28 score in his favor.
“The third round, if you watch it, I beat him for four minutes and he landed two good knees in the end of the round, and I took them well, and then I landed a spinning elbow,” Nicolau said. “Watching the third round all five times, it’s pretty clear I won, man. He wasn’t landing anything, I was landing, in and out, scoring well and hurting him. I kicked his leg and he went down, I landed several punches to the body, many crosses to the head.”
Nicolau believes that the robbery narrative on social media was caused by a biased commentary work from retired fighter Daniel Cormier, who had his former head coach Javier Mendez in Kape’s corner for UFC Vegas 21.
“‘DC’ is from his team, and it seemed cleared to me that he was kind of in his favor, rooting for him,” Nicolau said. “Man, I beat him for four minutes, they said that during the commentary, ‘Matheus is landing, he came better in round three,’ and then, with a minute left, they start saying the fight is wide open. It makes no sense based on their own commentary, I think it was a little contradictory.”
Midway through round three, Cormier said it was “a competitive round on the feet” but Nicolau’s combinations “put him ahead,” adding moments later that “this is a very close round.” Cormier and Michael Bisping, who was also in the commentary booth that night, both said during the round that the winner could be decided in the final minute, before Kape landed two good knees.
After the result was announced, Cormier said “that’s what happens when the fights are so close, you know? The judges decide. Sometimes they are wrong.”
On social media, Kape shared the Verdict results and wrote “there are no arguments against facts. Congratulations to UFC judges you guys won the fight.”
According to Nicolau, watching a fight and listening to Cormier’s commentary misled viewers to think it should had been a clear victory for Kape.
“I invite any person, journalist, specialist, hater, whatever, to watch the third round with me and score it again,” Nicolau said. “Because I’m sure the victory was mine.”
Despite the controversy, Nicolau is happy that his “main goal was accomplished, which is coming back with a big victory.”
Nicolau says he had to dig deep after Kape accidentally hit his eye with his chin in an accidental clash of heads in round two, making him “blind” for a few minutes during round two, but he “managed to go through that storm and come back well.”
The Brazilian flyweight doesn’t have a name in mind for his next octagon appearance, nor an ideal timetable for the next bout of his second UFC run, but feels he should be ranked in the top-15 of the division now. One step at a time, he said, “I’m open to any challenge that leads me” to the UFC gold.