The recently crowned RIZIN bantamweight champion Manel Kape (15-4) is headed stateside to test himself in the UFC. But who should welcome him?
The 135-pound bantamweight class is arguably the greatest in all of the sport if we’re taking into consideration the collection of talent worldwide. This is a division that truly sees the world’s best coming out of all major organizations to make up the top 15, and Kape is a part of that.
At the incredible RIZIN 20 event that closed out 2019, Kape captured his first major world title when he upset the upsetter in Kai Asakura via second-round knockout. Thus claiming the promotion’s vacant crown.
The win acted as a form of redemption for “Prodigio” as Asakura had defeated him the year prior by split decision. After that, he was all but perfect with only one loss out of his next five (three KO/TKOs, one submission).
Here are some fitting options for who he could and should make his Octagon debut against.
Jimmie Rivera (22-4)
Believe it or not, Jimmie Rivera is currently 1-3 in his last four outings. This coming after getting his career off to an incredible start as he once rode a winning streak of 20.
While Kape is a top 10 talent worldwide, the UFC doesn’t always treat their big signing newcomers with that same level of respect right out of the gate. Of course, there have been rare exceptions like with Eddie Alvarez or let’s say, Gilbert Melendez, but those were somewhat interesting circumstances.
Kape deserves a top guy and Rivera would be a good and fun matchup at this stage. Although probably a tough one for the veteran who might not be sticking around in the promotion if he were to lose despite being ranked at No. 8.
Marlon “Chito” Vera (15-5-1)
Marlon “Chito” Vera was actually supposed to be taking on Rivera at UFC 247 this past February. That was until Rivera sustained an injury leading to Vera being booked against Eddie Wineland. That, however, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Win or lose against Wineland when it happens, Vera is an awesome matchup with Kape. The Ecuador native has really found his stride and his five-fight winning streak is proof of that as he’s finished all five opponents in varied fashions (three TKOs, two submissions).
In terms of the potentially most exciting lower-ranked possible opponents for Kape, this is about as good as it’ll get.
Pedro Munhoz (18-4)
Now, while we just discussed the most exciting lower-ranked possibility for Kape, Pedro Munhoz may be the most exciting possibility that’s higher up.
Although still ranked No. 7 in the UFC’s rankings, and rightfully so, Munhoz’s stock plummeted big-time following his loss to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 238 in June 2019. He was on top of the world following his one round war with Cody Garbrandt a few months prior and was lined up for the next title shot if he were to get past Sterling.
Instead, that didn’t happen and now we haven’t seen or really heard from him since.
Munhoz surely eager and hungry to return, Kape would make for a phenomenal stylistic clash. Both are willing to throw down in the pocket and it would be interesting to see if the continually maturing former RIZIN champ would test his wrestling against someone of the Brazilian’s grappling prowess.
Song Yadong (15-4-1)
Like Kape, China’s Song Yadong still has a very bright future ahead of his young self.
Yadong hasn’t suffered defeat in eight fights but is fresh off a draw with Cody Stamann which puts him in somewhat of an odd position in terms of whether to fight up or down next. Well, that, in turn, makes Kape a pretty perfect option.
As mentioned, those who have been following Kape’s career to this point know he’s one of the best out there but the UFC will likely still treat him as a stronger prospect coming on in. Since that’s kind of an odd combination of ways to be perceived, putting him against Yadong could be rather realistic.
As for the fight itself, what more do you want? These are already two of the division’s best and the odds of them remaining as such for years to come is surely ahead. After seeing the Stamann fight, Kape would make for a great followup test to Yadong thanks to his aforementioned wrestling chops.
Rani Yahya (26-10-1)
Brazil’s Rani Yahya seems like the absolute perfect and most obvious choice that the UFC will end up going with for Kape’s debut. Again, interestingly enough, he too is coming off a draw like Yadong.
Before that, he had a fantastic three-fight submission win streak snapped by Ricky Simon. Now at age 35, Yahya feels like the top gatekeeper of sorts at 135-pounds – as much as we hate to say that.
Kape has the advantage everywhere over Yahya except for in BJJ – which is the case for most. Because of his experience and name, a win over Yahya is always rather notable. For someone like Kape who the UFC may not be sold on for one reason or another, it seems like a sensible launchpad for him to shake out any potential “UFC jitters”.