UFC newcomer Ike Villanueva is planning on getting Florida’s hurricane season kicked off a few weeks earlier this year.
Villanueva, 36, will make his promotional debut at the UFC’s Wednesday night fight card against the returning Chase Sherman in a heavyweight matchup. The event takes place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville and will be headlined by former title challengers Anthony Smith and Glover Teixeira.
“The Hurricane” brings a four-fight finish streak into his octagon debut, including wins over UFC veterans Roger Narvaez and Rashad Coulter in his last two fights to win, and defend the Fury FC light heavyweight title.
In addition to being a professional fighter, Villanueva is a full-time Level 3 CNC machinist for Hunting Energy Service in Texas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Villanueva was still working long hours, yet hoping that phone would ring for a UFC shot.
It finally came.
“So this was the day that Texas started opening things back up, like the restaurants,” Villanueva told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I was planning to pick my wife up after work and take her out to dinner. I get back to my truck and Jason (House) video called me. I was like, ‘Damn, House. Are you butt dialing me bro,’ because we usually go through text messages. Never video calls. So I immediately thought something was up.
“I took my work boots off, started the truck up and gave him a call back. All he said was, ‘We did it,’” Villanueva continued. “I didn’t know I was fighting Chase Sherman until about an hour later.”
Since making his professional debut in December 2008, Villanueva has seen the ups and the downs of the fight game. After returning from an over three year layoff from the sport, the 4oz. Fight Club product has gone 8-2 competing in divisions from middleweight to heavyweight.
Villanueva started to believe his chance may come, especially after his first-round finishes of Narvaez and Coulter. As the days went on, the phone wasn’t ringing. When the UFC was coming to Houston, he thought this could be his chance being a local fighter. Again, the phone didn’t ring, which began to bring Villanueva down. Luckily, he was able to get some face time with UFC matchmaker, Mick Maynard.
“It was tough,” Villanueva said of not getting his opportunity. “I had long nights at the gym, long nights downtown at Kru Bob’s place and on those drives home it was like, ‘What else do I have to do?’ And that’s just God trying to break you, trying to pull you somewhere else.
“I waited until January and was hoping to get a last minute phone call (for UFC 247 in Houston). We tried real hard to get on that card. That night, I went to the UFC show and at the afterparty, I walked up to Mick Maynard and asked him, ‘Who do I have to beat to get in the UFC? Who else is left? Give me a name.’
“He told me, ‘You’re doing great, it’s just your age.’ So it was kind of a dagger, but a little bit more fire and it fueled me to keep pushing.”
He will face Sherman on Wednesday, who gets his second opportunity with the promotion after compiling a 2-5 record in his first stint. “The Vanilla Gorilla” finished all three of his opponents while competing under the Island Fights banner after being released from the UFC. Sherman also had three fights with Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, including capturing the BKFC heavyweight title this past August.
One fight that stands out from Sherman’s first UFC run took place at UFC 211 in Dallas against, coincidentally, Rashad Coulter. Sherman would win by KO in the third round in the event’s “Fight of the Night.”
“Props to Chase, man. He’s a vet,” Villanueva said. “It’s a great match up and the fans are going to win this fight. Is it going to be a rumble like the Rashad (Coulter) fight? You’ll find out May 13 because I have the same mentality as him: kill, or be killed.”
Win, lose, or draw, Villanueva is excited to make that walk to the octagon all fighters dream of. Of course, he wants to create a highlight and a memory for his home state of Texas and predicts what the headline will read on Wednesday night.
“‘The Hurricane’ has landed,” Villanueva stated. “That’s all I’m gonna say, because I can see it in my head. ‘The Hurricane’ is coming in full affect.”