Alexandre Pantoja inspires UFC St. Louis headliner Rodrigo Nascimento: ‘I see it’s possible’

Rodrigo Nascimento enters his first UFC main event looking at teammate and UFC flyweight champion Alexandre Pantoja as an example.

Nascimento faces Derrick Lewis in a five-round heavyweight match Saturday at UFC St. Louis. The Brazilian talent plans to extend his win streak to four and climb the UFC rankings, to one day reach his ultimate dream of holding the UFC heavyweight title.

“I was talking to Pantoja the other day and it’s funny because he said, ‘I just wanted to get to the UFC, and all of a sudden we started winning fights and I saw it was possible,’” Nascimento told MMA Fighting. “I see it’s possible to become UFC champion too. It’s a matter of time. Derrick Lewis is my next step and I need to get past this guy, and I will.”

Nascimento defeated Tanner Boser, Ilir Latifi, and Don’Tale Mayes in his past three octagon appearances. Prior to that, he stopped Alan Baudot in the second round but had the victory overturned to a no-contest after failing a drug test for ritalinic acid. Nascimento was granted a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) after the fight, but the victory wasn’t reinstated because the Nevada Athletic Commission doesn’t accept retroactive TUEs.

The Brazilian heavyweight considers himself to be on a four-fight winning streak regardless, and believes he’ll enter the top 10 of the division with a victory at UFC St. Louis.

“[Lewis] has a ton of hype around him because he’s a funny guy, and also because he’s a good fighter,” Nascimento said. “I think this victory puts me on a different level in the UFC. After I beat him, I will definitely move up in the rankings and maybe fight a top-10 or even top-five [contender] in my next fight.”

Lewis lost a decision to Jailton Almeida in his most recent UFC appearance, dropping back into the loss column three months after a thrilling flying knee knockout of Nascimento’s teammate Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Nascimento said Saturday’s bout was originally planned for UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro, but claimed Lewis declined competing in Brazil again.

Lewis has been finished in nine of his 10 UFC defeats, and Nascimento plans on capitalizing. Nascimento won his past three UFC bouts via decision and liked the experience of going 15 minutes in the octagon, but wants to go back to finishing people again.

“We trained really hard, so I’m ready to go five rounds or submit him in the first round, or knock him out,” Nascimento said. “I’ll make the most of every opening he gives me to go there and end this fight. … I wish I had submitted [Mayes] in Sao Paulo to put on a show for the people and I gave my all for that, but he was tough. Winning — and a full paycheck — is what matters in the end.”

“Derrick Lewis might come a bit lighter this time to be more agile,” he continued. “He can be surprising in many aspects. He has surprised other heavyweights in the past. His inside trips are dangerous, and his hands, no doubt about it. Everybody knows that. I’ll be alert to defend against that. The fact he’s an unpredictable fighter makes him very dangerous.”

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