Can Matheus Nicolau enter the confusing flyweight title picture with a win over Matt Schnell at UFC Orlando? Sitting at No. 10 in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings after winning three straight in the UFC, the Nova Uniao fighter thinks that’s the case for 2023.
Coming off of decision victories over Manel Kape, Tim Elliott, and David Dvorak since returning to the company in 2021, and with a combined octagon record of 6-1 across two UFC stints, Nicolau expects his next assignment to be a No. 1 contender bout if he gets a big victory over Matt Schnell this Saturday at UFC Orlando.
“We’ll undoubtedly be in the final mix for a title shot with a good win over Matt Schnell,” Nicolau said on this week’s Trocação Franca podcast. “It will depend on who wins the title fight in January [between Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno] and how they will book fights next and who will be available, but a win over Matt Schnell definitely puts us in the mix for a title shot.”
Figueiredo and Moreno meet for a fourth time in the main event of UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 21, and Alexandre Pantoja is sitting as the backup fighter in case something happens to either fighter.
“With the right fight and the right challenge,” he said, “I think a good win over Schnell and one more can earn us the shot. It depends on how things happen later, of course. Pantoja had the opportunity [before] but he was injured, it happens, but I’ll be in the mix.”
Nicolau predicts Figueiredo will come out victorious after UFC 283 but isn’t sure he sticks around at flyweight next or simply moves up to bantamweight.
“Whoever that is,” Nicolau said, “I’ll be ready to win the belt.”
A month away from turning 30 years of age, Nicolau knows he has to get past “complete guy” Schnell first to keep his championship plans alive and aims to make “Danger” pay for any mistakes inside the octagon.
“Schnell is a complete guy, just like every guy in lighter divisions,” Nicolau said of Schnell, who tapped Sumudaerji with a triangle choke this past July. “Everybody is very hybrid and versatile [at flyweight]. Matt brings dangers on the feet and on the ground, he’s got a good number of submissions even though he started in karate, and I see a good path for me in both areas. Wherever he makes a mistake, I’ll be ready to capitalize and get the victory.”
“It all depends on how he comes for this fight,” he continued. “If he comes in overaggressive on the feet, that can give me an opening to catch him on the feet. And if he tries to grapple with me, maybe the ground game is my path to victory. What I can say is that I have envisioned my hands raised in the end — and finishing it early by submission or knockout.”