While this weekend’s bout with Pantoja carries the potential to inject Kape straight into the thick of the title chase with a victory, the truth of the matter is that the dynamic finisher has already been thrust into the title conversation without having even set foot in the Octagon yet.

When this matchup was scuttled in December, Kape was tabbed to serve as the backup option in case either competitor in the UFC 256 flyweight title fight was unable to compete. Although everything went off without a hitch and Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno combined to deliver one of the best fights of the year, Kape didn’t come away from the experience empty handed.

“For me, it was a big test to make 125; it was a long time since I did that,” explained Kape, who stepped on the scale the morning before the event and made championship weight. “It was difficult for me to make 135 pounds, but now I’m more disciplined, I have a nutritionist that works with me, and it was the best weight cut of my life when I was supposed to be a backup.

“I feel good and I feel like I can make this weight easy and fight at 135, so I’m here to fight, to put on a show, and to be a champion.”

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Saturday’s contest should serve as a quality litmus test for the promotional newcomer, as the 30-year-old Pantoja has been a fixture in the Top 10 since arriving in the division following his time on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter.

Brandishing a 22-5 record overall and a 6-3 mark in his first nine UFC starts, including appearances against both Moreno and Figueiredo, the aggressive veteran is a tough out and dangerous dance partner for anyone looking to work their way up the divisional ladder and bolster their standing at his expense.

Not that Kape expects to have any trouble with the American Top Team representative this weekend.

“Fans can expect a master class, and a smart game,” he said when asked what those getting their introduction to his skills and abilities will see on Saturday night. “I want to show and I want to prove that I’m the best fighter in the world.