Alexander Pantoja Inspires UFC St. Louis Headliner Rodrigo Nascimento: 'I See It's Possible'

Rodrigo Nascimento is competing in his first UFC main event, taking his teammate and UFC flyweight champion Alexander Pantoja as his example.

Nascimento faces Derrick Lewis in a five-round bout on Saturday at UFC St. Louis. The Brazilian talent plans to extend his winning streak to four and climb the UFC rankings to one day achieve his ultimate dream of winning the UFC heavyweight title.

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

Nascimento has defeated Tanner Boser, Ilir Latifi and Don'Teil Mays in his last three appearances in the Octagon. He previously stopped Alan Bodo in the second round, but the victory was overturned and declared a no contest due to a failed drug test for Ritalinic acid. Nascimento was granted a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) after the fight, but the victory was not restored because the Nevada Athletic Commission does not accept retroactive TUEs.

The Brazilian heavyweight, however, believes he is on a four-fight winning streak and believes he will crack the division's top 10 after winning at UFC St. Louis.

“(Lewis) has a lot of hype around him because he's a funny guy and also because he's a good fighter,” Nascimento said. “I think this win takes me to another level in the UFC. After I beat him, I will definitely move up in the rankings and maybe fight a top 10 or even a top five (contender) in my next fight.”

Lewis lost a decision to Jaylton Almeida in his final UFC appearance, returning to the loss column three months after a thrilling knee knockout of Nascimento Marcos teammate Rogerio de Lima. Nascimento said Saturday's fight was originally scheduled to take place at UFC 301 in Rio de Janeiro, but said Lewis declined to fight in Brazil again.

Lewis has suffered nine of his 10 losses in the UFC, and Nascimento plans to capitalize on that. Nascimento has won his last three UFC fights by decision and enjoyed the experience of being in the Octagon for 15 minutes, but he wants to get back to finishing people.

“We've been training really hard, so I'm ready to go five rounds, either submit him in the first round or knock him out,” Nascimento said. “I’m making the most of every opportunity he gives me to go out there and finish this fight. … I would have loved to bring (Mayes) to Sao Paulo to put on a show for the people, and I gave my all to do that, but he was tough. Winning and getting paid in full is what matters in the end.”

“Derrick Lewis might be a little lighter this time to be more agile,” he continued. “He can surprise in many ways. He has surprised other heavyweights in the past. His trips inside are dangerous, and his hands are without a doubt dangerous. Everyone knows this. I will be ready to defend against this. The fact that he is an unpredictable fighter makes him very dangerous.”

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