Flash back to December 3, 2022. It was winter in the Sunshine State and UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs Holland was underway in Orlando. Among the fighters was top flyweight contender Matheus Nicolau, a Brazil native who was on a five-fight winning streak and looking to make this bout a pivotal moment that would finally put his name in the title conversation.
Less than two minutes into the second round, Nicolau found himself on the outside. Dancing around, trying to stay patient and find an opening, his opponent, veteran Matt Schnell, finally came into range and the 29-year-old landed a beautiful left hook that sent the seventh-ranked flyweight to the canvas.
Nicolau gave the decade-long professional only his seventh loss, became 4-0 since his return to the UFC, and moved his overall record to 19-3-1. A pretty decent resume for only returning in 2021.
“Right now, I'm an unemployed fighter, I have no fights left in my contract. Let’s see if the UFC has some interest in me. After that knockout, I believe they have.”
These were the confident words said by Nicolau to Daniel Cormier in his Octagon interview following his momentous performance.
Fast-forward to the present day. A contract negotiation later, and the number-five ranked flyweight is gearing up for the pivotal Top 5 matchup he has been dreaming of, as he puts his confident words to the test this Saturday against Brandon Royval, who is number four in the rankings.
“For the UFC to already want to use you, is very good right? It’s an extra push when you see that they have something in mind for you, [they] have an idea for you. Here we are today with another challenge scheduled and I'm very motivated to give my best again.”
The two combatants have a decent amount in common. They’re both Top 5, both are BJJ black belts, and Royval’s last fight was also against Matt Schnell. At UFC 274: Oliveira vs Gaethje, Royval submitted Schnell in less than three minutes and the pair earned Fight of the Night honors.
Maybe something to think about if you’re Matheus Nicolau?
“He’s been in the Top 5 for a while, so he was a guy who was on my radar and I’ve been following his fights for some time, always watching with close attention, knowing that one day we could fight, and that day is near.”
The Brazilian compliments his opponent, saying, “I think that he's a very aggressive guy. He's a well-rounded guy, with dangerous striking and grappling.”
Nicolau has been studying Royval and thinks his strengths can be used against him.
“He’s a guy who, with his aggressiveness and those weapons, he ends up exposing himself too much. And I see that I can take advantage of that aggression.”
Royval’s aggressiveness might just be his downfall. At least that’s what Nicolau hopes.
Keeping this in mind, the Brazilian is prepared. He’s had a cool, calm, and collected demeanor throughout this fight camp, considering his aspirations to be a titleholder. One may think that this bout would bring an added sense of pressure, but instead, the Brazilian seems to be using it as fuel and it only adds to his confidence.
“In the first part of camp, I try to focus more on myself. Improving my weapons, always looking for something to improve, and each fight is a little bit different. Of course, when you already have an opponent, you inevitably think about him a little and all that, but I was very focused on improving my weapons. Now, in this final part, in these past three weeks, we're cleaning things up and looking at the possibilities and preparing a good game plan for him. We're preparing good paths for striking and on the ground because I think it's inevitably a fight which will have all of MMA. There will be striking, jiu-jitsu, and work on the fence.”
Nicolau is a part of the Nova União crew in Rio de Janeiro, where most of his camp took place. He fully immersed himself in this training camp to become a more well-rounded mixed martial artist. He also went to São Paulo to train boxing with Alex Cardoso, grappling with Demian Maia, and worked with his manager Eduardo Alonso, who is also his head coach.
Having such a knowledgeable support system around him makes training a healthy, desirable environment. In the words of Nicolau, “there's nothing like training to give you confidence.”
Taking the reps he received in every aspect of the game, in The Ultimate Fighter alum’s mind, there is no outcome where he ends up in the L column.
“I honestly see myself winning wherever he goes, whatever he gives me. Whether it's in the striking or in jiu-jitsu, wherever he slips up, I'll be ready to beat him. I can't tell you how, but I believe this fight ends before the third round with my arm raised.”
UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs Allen took place live from T-Mobile Center in Kansas City on April 15, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!