Manel Kape has left the Rizin ring behind, turning his attention instead to the UFC’s octagon.

The decision to migrate to the UFC was not an easy one for Kape, especially considering he’s only a few months removed from winning the bantamweight strap with a sizzling TKO of Kai Asakura at Rizin 20. Yet he’s confident his choice was the right one,

“My mind was on defending my belt,” Kape said.

“I like staying in Japan, Japan is my home. But very early after my fight (with Asakura) I had an opportunity. I talked with my coach, talked with my family, and they said ‘This is a good time to come to the UFC, you’re young, you’re a champion.’ So I think this is good timing.”

Kane admits that he had always harboured ambitions of signing with the UFC,

“This was one of my goals: to be in the UFC,” he added.

“But the thing that will make me most excited is when I get the belt. It’s not just about getting to the UFC, it’s about staying in UFC and making my career great.”

Rizin

Allure of the octagon

Kape says Nobuyuki Sakakibara made a strong effort to keep him around and Rizin offered “a big contract, good money.”

But ultimately the allure of the UFC proved too great,

“It’s not just about money, it’s about UFC,” he explained.

“Everybody watches UFC. So why not prove to everybody and show everybody what I’ve been talking about for a long time; that I’m the smartest fighter in the world. I can show everybody. It’s a good opportunity to show my skills and show that I’m really a legitimate world champion.”

The details of Kape’s first UFC bout are far from finalized amid the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, or Covid-19, pandemic. But he intends to fight in the flyweight division and has been promised a ranked fighter for his debut.

As a former Rizin titleholder, he feels he deserves an immediate crack at UFC gold, but is content to take a few other bouts first if that’s what the UFC matchmakers see fit,

“In my opinion, because I come as a champion, it makes more sense for me to fight with the champion, but if they put me in some fights before the belt, I’m ready,” he said.

“I don’t choose fights. I never choose a fight in my life. In Rizin, they gave me the most dangerous fighters in the organization. I’m not like other fighters, they choose and I say ‘ok’.”

Hunt to win

While Kape isn’t picky when it comes to his opponents, he has expressed interest in a fight with former UFC bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt, who recently laid out plans for a drop to the flyweight division.

“He says he wants to come to the flyweight division, that he will save the division,” Kape said of Garbrandt.

“I feel like ‘what the f**k?’ If you can’t even save your belt, how are you gonna save a division?”

Despite Garbrandt’s wealth of big stage experience and accolades as a former UFC champ, Kape is undaunted by this prospective matchup,

“It’s the same feeling as when I fought with Kyoji Horiguchi, when I fought with Kai Asakura, when I fought with Takeya Mizugaki in Rizin,” he said of fighting a big name like Garbrandt.

“A fight is a fight. My feelings are the same. It doesn’t matter who you are, the feeling’s the same. I want to hunt and I want to win.”

Rizin

Fan favourite

Stylistically the 26 year old sees it as a very winnable fight,

“For sure he doesn’t have more power than me. I’m taller than him, I’m bigger than him. Nobody wants to strike with me.”

Whether he’s fighting Garbrandt or somebody else, Kape intends to make a lot of noise in the UFC flyweight division. In fact, he believes he’s capable of injecting some real excitement into the weight class, which has long struggled to capture the interest of fans.

He suspects the UFC believes that, too.

“My contract will save this division,” he said confidently. “This division needs new blood like me.”

Kape was very popular in Japan and thinks he has will be even more of a fan favourite in the west,

“I don’t speak Japanese very well, I’m not fluent but look what I did in Japan. I put 30,000 people inside Saitama, more than Fedor and Rampage (at Bellator Japan). The numbers don’t lie. They (the UFC) saw this, they know my potential for making more people interested. So 100% this division will be more exciting for everybody.”

While Kape’s immediate goal is to conquer the UFC flyweight division, he’s not opposed to hiking back up to bantamweight in the future. At the end of the day, it’s all big fights, big paydays, and making a better life for himself,

“My goal is to be a champion in the UFC and to make exciting fights and make huge money and live my best life,” he said.

“I have an opportunity to do what I want to do, and I’ll make sure that this happens.”