Manel Kape competes at RIZIN 18

RIZIN 20 was supposed to be Kai Asakura’s moment.

Facing the champion he had already defeated, albeit in a non-title bout, on one of the brightest stages MMA has to offer, to conclude a stunningly good 2019 for the Asakura brothers; it was set up perfectly. Instead, following an injury to Kyoji Horiguchi, RIZIN’s golden boy will face another former foe in the main event of RIZIN 20, keen for revenge.

In a recent interview with The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko, Kape discussed his feelings towards Asakura and while he accepts that 2019 has been a good year for the younger brother, he is more than confident in his own ability to get the job done come December 31.

“Of course, he’s impressive,” Kape said. “But this doesn’t make me scared, I’ve never felt any knockdowns in my life, nobody’s ever knocked me down. I have a good chin, good movement. From my last fight with Asakura, I know how he moves, and I know that I can stop him so easily.

Kape and Asakura fought for the first time in 2018 at RIZIN 10. In what is largely considered one of the promotions best ever fights, Asakura claimed a controversial split decision victory, with many viewing Kape the correct winner. While the Portuguese fighter feels he did not give his best showing in the first bout, he is expecting a successful outing on the second attempt.

“This fight against Kai, I wanted this fight so long ago. It’s not about the belt, it’s about my revenge against Kai. I wanted this fight so much, so they made this happen. It’s so good because it’s my revenge and it’s for the belt. This has given me so much motivation because I want to fight against him. This makes me wake up every morning and stay focused.”

“In the first fight, I wasn’t too prepared, and I made easy mistakes. He didn’t do anything too impressive; he didn’t have any moments that made me feel in danger. I know that he is scared of me. All the time I made him feel scared in our fight. He cannot strike with me, I’m faster than him. This isn’t a street fight; this is a game and I like playing this game. This is easy for me.”

Horiguchi ‘wasn’t ready’ for this match

Following his withdrawal from the Asakura rematch, it was announced that Kyoji Horiguchi would not only be out of action for between 10 and 12 months, but he would also relinquish both his RIZIN and Bellator bantamweight titles.

For Kape, Horiguchi’s absence is clearly advantageous, allowing the Portuguese fighter to earn the first title shot of his stint in RIZIN. However, he has little respect for the decision; injuries are a part of the sport, and in Kape’s opinion, fighters should fight.

“My reaction is that Horiguchi is a pussy. I’ve had a lot of injuries too, my knees, my shoulders, my neck. He knows that this fight is very important for him, it’s for the belt, so he’s ran away. It doesn’t matter if you have injuries, this is not a normal fight; it’s for the belt.

“I have a lot of injuries. Even in my last fight, I had to switch my side on fight week, because my left shoulder was not so good, but I still fought because it doesn’t matter if I have an injury. Horiguchi ran away from this fight because he didn’t want it, he wasn’t ready for this match.”

A successful training camp

Since signing with RIZIN in 2017, Kape is 5-3 with all his wins coming via finish and his other losses coming against Ulka Sasaki and Horiguchi. This year, he has shown particularly impressive growth in bouts against Seiichiro Ito and Takeya Mizugaki, finishing both via second-round TKO. This partially owes to his move to AKA Thailand, where he trains under Mike Swick and Marcio Cesar Gracinha, in far better facilities than before and with more skillful training partners.

“I bring some partners for training. My friend Italo, who is a Brazilian guy. He’s a great striker, very accurate and he’s very similar to Asakura; I needed someone very accurate who would push me. I’ll be training with him a lot, and he does a great Asakura impression. I do my jiu-jitsu, I train my wrestling, my cardio, my MMA. Everything will be okay; I’ve had a good training camp.”

In particular, Kape points to Mike Swick as a hugely positive influence on his career. Swick, a former WEC middleweight title contender and TUF 1 veteran, started AKA Thailand in 2014 and quickly established it as one of the premier MMA destinations in Asia. It is clear that Kape holds Swick in high regard, and believes he has been an important part of his journey to title contender.

“He’s shared with a lot of his UFC experience, which has been really good. They make my game a lot easier, he’s helped me with my ground game and my striking. His experience has definitely helped me a lot.”

“Before, when I came to Rizin for fights, I’d been in Africa for two years. It was always me that was training people. I didn’t like this, I like people teaching me. I like having someone more experienced than me and making time for me. Before I didn’t have much choice. It was just training with like one guy with not too much experience and my training conditions weren’t good.”

“Now, I feel 100%. I have great conditioning, good food, I can eat more than in Africa. I have a good coach, everybody’s pushing me, watching my back. I’m blessed.”

RIZIN 20 will take place at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan on December 31, 2019. The annual blockbuster event features three title fights, the semi-final bouts of the Lightweight Grand Prix, and an appearance from kickboxing megastar Tenshin Nasukawa.

In the co-main event, Jiri Prochazka will put his light heavyweight title on the line against UFC middleweight veteran CB Dolloway and in the final title fight, Ayaka Hamasaki will defend against former Road FC atomweight queen Seo Hee Ham.

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