Manel Kape is well aware of what he’s fighting for. The 25-year-old fighter has his sights set on reaching the top of RIZIN’s bantamweight division.
UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal is this weekend!
Three title fights are scheduled for UFC Fight Island on Saturday, July 11. Order the PPV now on ESPN+.
To get there, he has to string some wins together and show that he deserves another shot at the upper echelon that he faltered against previously. After winning his last outing at RIZIN 15 by second-round TKO over Seiichiro Ito, Kape has a chance to start a new winning streak when he faces Takeya Mizugaki at RIZIN 18 on August 18.
As for Mizugaki, he finds himself in a vastly different position. The 35-year-old veteran is making his RIZIN debut in the twilight of his career, which Kape believes is a curious decision.
“Now Mizugaki’s older than before,” Kape said to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “He’s more slow. He has a lot of punch in [his] head, in [his] chin than before. He has a lot of fights. So I don’t know what motivation he has for continuing with MMA or this fight … I have a lot of motivation. I’m young, I want a belt. I want to show the world my talents.”
Kape certainly has youth on his side. He also believes that he has his opponent figured out after watching some of his 38 professional fights.
“Mizugaki is like a dog, you know, like a dog. He likes [to] fight. He likes [to] come for war, but he’s not smart fighter,” Kape said. “If you want to fight against me, you need to be very, very smart, you know, very, very smart. You need to prove something new, not same s**t that I see before.”
That being said, Kape respects Mizugaki’s veteran status. The Japanese fighter was a title challenger in WEC and a force in the UFC’s bantamweight division in his prime. But Kape knows that past accolades don’t equate to present success.
“I don’t know if this fight is healthy for him because I’m more young. I’ve got more speed. I have a lot of power and I have experience,” Kape said. “So I don’t think this fight will be healthy for him.”
Manel Kape continues to grow
Since his first MMA fight at age 14, Kape has grown by leaps and bounds. His boxing background melded well with MMA, and performing in front of crowds at a young age has helped alleviate nerves when he steps into the RIZIN ring now.
Kape is dedicated to putting on a show. That is his trademark style, and it’s not something he ever plans to change.
Still, he’s seen his skills evolve tremendously over the years of competition.
“I changed a lot. I think every — no, I know that every fight, every fight I have changed,” Kape said. “I’m better than before. I learned a lot. When I have some fights, I can see my mistakes. I can see my mistakes and I can learn and go back to the gym and improve and make something new.”
Kape’s studies benefited him in his last appearance against Ito in April. When watching his opponent alongside his coach Marcio Cesar Gracinha, the duo found a weakness that Kape could exploit with an old trick of his.
“In the last camp, my coach Marcio tells me to explore more the body in the second round,” Kape said. “Only because people cannot follow me in the cardio, and I know in the second round everybody feel more tired, so we can make some smart game [plan] and explore more of the body shots.”
Sure enough, the opportunity presented itself, and Kape landed a hard shot that forced Ito down to one knee. Kape landed one last punch to the head before referee Jason Herzog called a stop to the fight.
Kape’s most recent bout also saw him wear wrestling shoes inside the ring for the first time. The shoes not only provided extra padding to prevent foot injuries, but they also solved an obscure problem that plagued Kape on numerous occasions.
“I sweat a lot in my foot, you know, I sweat a lot,” Kape said. “Many people sweat in the hands. I sweat in my foot. All the last fights, I slip a lot.”
The added grip made Kape more comfortable utilizing his movement, and he plans on sticking with the shoes in the future.
What the future holds for Manel Kape
Once Kape’s fight at RIZIN 18 is finished, he’ll be keeping a close eye on the main event. Two of his former foes, bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi and challenger Kai Asakura, will be closing the show.
Having competed against both, Kape believes he has a good idea of how this title fight will play out.
“I don’t see any situations that Asakura can do something new for Kyoji that Kyoji [hasn’t seen] before,” Kape said. “He’s a tough guy, but if you want to fight with Kyoji, you no just be tough guy. You need to be smart.”
Kape’s official prediction is a first-round stoppage win for Horiguchi.
If Kape can handle business in his fight, he could find himself with the chance to avenge some of his previous losses on the way back up the ranks. But having already made a name for himself in RIZIN, he may also be eligible for another big fight.
Kape welcomes the idea of fighting kickboxing phenom Tenshin Nasukawa, but Kape doesn’t want to halt his progress in MMA to venture over to kickboxing. If the two young fighters are going to square off, Kape expects it to be under MMA rules.
“If he comes for a fight MMA, why not? We can do this,” Kape said.
“I think Japan will like this fight, but I think it is not good for him now fight MMA against me, I’m more experienced than him. He just has good kickboxing, very, very good kickboxing. But for MMA you cannot just [have] good kickboxing.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.