Rodrigo Nascimento went through a lot in a decade between a surprising invitation at the door of a lan house in Brazil and his UFC debut.
Nascimento, who enters the octagon for the first time to face Don’tale Mayes at tonight’s UFC on ESPN 8 show in Jacksonville, Fla., was a teenager when he put gloves on for the first time. Born in Belo Horizonte, Nascimento “loved going to a lan house to play games,” and that’s where he met a man that changed his life forever.
Everton Rabelo de Andrade taught kids and young adults martial arts in the city, and invited Nascimento to be part of the team. On Oct. 2010, the teenager entered his gym “and trained every single day of the week, and never stopped.”
“He changed my life,” Nascimento tells MMA Fighting.
“Ze Colmeia,” the Portuguese name for cartoon character Yogi Bear, was made fun constantly in the class for being the last one to finish a race. It’s no surprise, considering his previous routine only included playing Lineage, Killer Instinct and Street Fighter in front of a TV or computer.
“The first time I trained was a huge impact in my life,” Nascimento says. “I remember (Junior dos Santos) ’Cigano’ was close to becoming UFC champion, I saw this guy on TV and thought to myself, ‘F*ck, I wanna be like this guy one day.’ That was motivating. It was a dream for me. I worked hard for many, many years, had so many highs and lows, and here I am — and ‘Cigano’ is my teammate now, talks to me every day.”
Nascimento now lives in Florida and trains alongside a long list of UFC stars at American Top Team, but getting there wasn’t easy. “Ze Colmeia” made short work of Cicero Augusto in his MMA debut as a light heavyweight, stopping him in just 42 seconds, but his world fell apart months later.
“I was cutting weight for my second fight, I remember thinking about calling (de Andrade) to help me cut weight but for some reason I didn’t,” Nascimento says, “and then I got a call from a friend asking if I heard what happened, that ‘Tom’ was dead. I couldn’t believe it. I went there to see it for myself and it was true.”
“Tom Bad Boy” was dead at age 35. Nascimento entered the cage in Belo Horizonte two days later to compete as a tribute, but his opponent “left the arena before the fight.”
Nascimento stills carries the same old shirt he wore that night, taking it to Jacksonville as a way to honor his late mentor on the MMA world’s biggest stage.
“I take this shirt everywhere I go,” he says. “It’s a way of showing how grateful I am. Every time I fight my opponent has a huge problem in front of him because I’m not fighting alone, I know his energy is there with me. This guy changed my life. I wish he was here to see all this.”
Nascimento would have entered the octagon a while back, actually, but visa issues knocked him and several others out of the Brazilian edition of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018. He made the most of his second chance a year later, impressing the UFC boss with a first-round finish of Michal Martinek and inking a deal with he promotion.
“It was very hard, but everything changed in 2019,” Nascimento says. “That made me stronger and mature, and that makes a big different in a fight. We have no other choice but continue. I remember watching the UFC the next week and thinking, ‘F*ck, I’m not there.’ That’s when I realized what happened and felt bad for a while. I won’t lie, it was hard to get back on my feet, but thank God everything went well.”
“Ze Colmeia” vs. “Lord Kong” was originally booked for UFC’s event on April 11, but then got pushed back two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the UFC also had to pull the plug on that show, Nascimento’s bout with Mayes was moved to UFC on ESPN 8 on May 16.
“My opponent is tough, but I’m sure everything will be alright and I’ll win,” he says. “I’m ready, I’m focused. I know he’s a dangerous and unpredictable guy and I’m not underestimating him, but I have a to more to offer. I’m faster, I have better jiu-jitsu, I’m stronger than him. I just have to remain calm, control my adrenaline and my heart, and impose my game and everything we trained.”
Mayes’ also made his way to the UFC through the Contender Series, but had to fight three times in Dana White’s show before being offered a contract. In his UFC debut, Mayes lost to rising heavyweight prospect Ciryl Gane via third-round submission.
“What really caught my attention is that he has heart,” Nascimento says. “He’s not like most of these wimpy heavyweights that take a punch and retreat. This guy is unpredictable, strong. I’m sure it’s gonna be a great fight.
“I see myself submitting him,” he adds. “Arm-triangle choke, anaconda choke, rear-naked choke… I’m sure it’s going to be a choke.”
Like in his old lan house days, “Ze Colmeia” has to play smart in order to win.
“I don’t like games that you just have to kill, I like strategy games,” Nascimento says. “It’s just like in a fight, you can’t flat out brawl.”