Perez stays in flyweight title picture with KO win

LAS VEGAS — Alex Perez scored a scintillating second-round knockout of Matheus Nicolau in a battle of flyweights jockeying for title contention Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night at the UFC Apex.

Ranked No. 8 by the UFC, Perez (25-8 MMA, 7-4 UFC) stepped into the main event picture after Manel Kape had to pull out of the bout with a rib injury. Perez put a dramatic halt to a three-fight skid, using a high-volume approach to eventually break through Nicolau’s guard and sink him with a thudding right hand at the 2:16 mark in the second round.

Perez was the busier fighter early on with constant movement and feints. Nicolau, the UFC’s No. 5-ranked flyweight entering the night, remained composed in the opening frame and defended well as Perez routinely launched into multipunch combinations. Perez managed to get through with a few body shots and a leg kick before Nicolau got his attention with a counter left hand.

But the sheer amount of activity kept Nicolau on his back foot and without an answer to Perez’s salvos.

Perez kept the volume going in the second round as Nicolau attempted to counter and close the distance. A short right hand clipped the Brazilian and sent him stumbling backward. Perez immediately went for the finish as he rushed forward and launched into another violent barrage of punches as Nicolau’s back was up against the fence. A right hand slipped through and caught the Brazilian flush, immediately crumpling him along the cage wall.

“It feels amazing,” Perez said following the victory. “Everyone counted me out after three losses.”

Perez, who was coming off a loss to Muhammad Mokaev in March, was originally slated to face Tagir Ulanbekov on June 15 but took the opportunity to climb back into the top of the division with a higher-ranked opponent. It was a significant risk, but Perez was up for the challenge and cashed out in a major way.

“I tell people I don’t get paid to sit on the couch, I get paid to fight and this is the reason why,” he said about taking the fight on three weeks’ notice. “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”

Nicolau (19-5-1, 7-3 UFC) has dropped two in a row, both by knockout, after going on a four-fight winning streak. Saturday marked his first fight since a knockout loss to Brandon Royval last April.

With the win, Perez will keep a close eye on next week’s flyweight bout between Alexandre Pantoja and Steve Erceg at UFC 301. While a title fight might not be next, a victory of this magnitude will almost certainly land him a fight with title implications in the near future.

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