The mad Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) scramble to return to action has opened the door for a trio of new Heavyweights, two of them tonight and the last debuting in Saturday’s opening “Prelims” bout. On this edition of “New Blood,” the series where making two posts for three people seemed excessive, we check out a PFL tournament winner, a regional champion, and an undefeated “Contender Series” alum.
UFC ‘Jacksonville’ (Tonight)
Philipe “Monstro” Lins
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 14-3 (8 KO, 4 SUB)
Notable Victories: Josh Copeland, Jared Rosholt, Alex Nicholson
“Monstro” — who first debuted back in 2005 — initially made his name as a Light Heavyweight prospect, winning his first two Bellator bouts in less than four minutes combined. A devastating knee injury and dengue fever kept him out of action for the next two years, and though he knocked out The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil” veteran Guilherme “Bomba” upon his return, two straight knockout losses ended his Bellator run. He then moved to Heavyweight, where he won PFL’s 2018 tournament with four consecutive finishes.
For having such an in-your-face nickname, Lins is a remarkably technical and patient fighter. His offense is built around consistent lateral movement and a quick jab; if given room to operate, he’s happy to rack up damage with leg kicks and 1-2s, occasionally tacking on a 3 if necessary and fluidly switching between head and body shots, and demonstrated his ability to piece up a stationary target with combinations against a gassed Josh Copeland. He responds to pressure with a powerful counter right that he admittedly sits down a bit too much on.
It’s a fairly taxing style for a man of his size, but luckily, he’s shown the ability to keep his hands and feet in consistent motion for at least three rounds. As expected from a former/natural Light Heavyweight, he’s got faster hands than the average big man and hits hard enough that opponents can’t just damn the torpedoes and walk him down.
On the grappling side, he’s shown decent takedown defense and, critically, an unwillingness to just accept bad positions. He constantly worked to stand or threaten submissions against Rosholt, ultimately stuffing his first takedown of the second round and putting him away with a combination. Between those skills and his footwork, he’s tough to get a grip on, and the guillotine he used to put away Caio Alencar
Lins doesn’t seem to have any outstanding weaknesses that I could see; despite those knockout losses, his chin stood up nicely against Alex Nicholson. He did seem to get flustered when Nicholson really started to push him back, but that’s it. Though I don’t see him touching a title, he’s easily a top 15 Heavyweight.
Opponent: Like every other heavy-handed striker UFC gets its mitts on, they’re pitting him against Andrei Arlovski. So long as he doesn’t forget to throw punches like Augusto Sakai and Walt Harris did against “The Pitbull,” “Monstro” should take this easily.
Ike “Hurricane” Villanueva
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 16-9 (13 KO)
Notable Victories: Rashad Coulter, Roger Narvaez
A well-traveled veteran who’s fought in promotions like LFC, Shark Fights, Bellator, and Fury FC, Villanueva enters the Octagon with nine wins in his last eleven fights and in the midst of a four-fight first-round stoppage streak. His last two victories saw him stop UFC veterans Rashad Counter and Roger Narvaez in under four minutes combined.
Watching him in action, it looks as though Villanueva’s best weight is 205 pounds, where he claimed a Fury FC title. That said, he’s still dangerous as a Heavyweight thanks to fast hands, good combination work, and a knack for punishing overextension. He’s a fairly upright striker whose nice lead left hook and damaging right shovel hook serve as the highlights of his arsenal. He showed some decent wrestling defense and some nice trips earlier in his career, though his ability to manhandle a true 265er remains in question, and did an excellent job of directly moving to mount after hurting Coulter and putting him away with ground-and-pound.
Size and striking defense look to be the biggest red flags at the moment. Beyond being slower and more unproven at Heavyweight, his habits of leaving his chin in the air and dropping his right hand to his midsection before throwing it are going to get him in trouble against a serious hitter. Still, hand speed covers a multitude of sins. I can see him being a middle-of-the-pack Light Heavyweight and maybe racking up a couple of Heavyweight victories.
Opponent: On the one hand, Chase Sherman is a fair bit bigger than Villanueva and has legitimate power. On the other hand, Sherman’s proven a mediocre striker at best outside of his low kicks. As I said in my Prelims piece, I’ve got Villanueva by a hair, though I wouldn’t be surprised by either man getting sparked.
UFC On ESPN 8 (Saturday)
Rodrigo “Ze Colmeia” Nascimento
Weight Class: Heavyweight
Record: 7-0 (2 KO, 5 SUB)
Notable Victories: Michael Martinek
Brazil’s Nascimento has been fighting off and on since 2012, only really competing consistently from 2016-2017. After nearly two years away due to visa issues, he made his Contender Series debut last July, choking out fellow unbeaten Michael Martinek midway through the first round. All but one of his wins have come within the first five minutes.
Of the three Heavyweights on this list, Nascimento is the hardest to get a bead on due to a lack of data. The most recent pre-Contender Series footage I could find was of a 2016 fight with a debuting opponent, so most of what I’ve got to work with comes from the Martinek fight, where he didn’t get the chance to show much besides his top control.
As far as striking, all he’s really demonstrated so far are the rushing punch flurries that Fabricio Werdum is fond of. His wrestling is a question mark; said 0-0 opponent slipped, giving Nascimento top position, and Martinek got reversed trying to make a bad shot.
I can safely say that his top control is legit, though. He showed very nice passing skills against Martinek before polishing him off with an arm triangle, using solid balance to land ground-and-pound along the way. Combine the visible skills with his being 6’3”, 257 lbs. and you’ve got someone you definitely don’t want to get stuck under.
The jury’s still out on “Ze Colmeia.” If he turns out to have the ability to consistently put opponents on their backs, he’ll be a menace, and if not, he’s still a big guy with an 80” reach. I’ll hold off on making a final judgment until after his debut.
Opponent: Said debut pits him against fellow “Contender Series” alum Don’Tale Mayes, a crude but devastating power-puncher. Nascimento will need to show some wrestling chops, because what I’ve seen out of him on the feet suggests he’s going to get lamped by a right hand if he stays there too long.
Tape: His “Contender Series” appearance is on Fight Pass and ESPN+.
Irwin “The Beast” Rivera
Weight Class: Bantamweight/Featherweight
Record: 9-4 (5 KO, 1 SUB)
Notable Victories: Danny Sabatello, Matt Wagy, Lazar Stojadinovic
Blackzilians’ Rivera won his first three professional bouts before a loss to future UFC competitor Steven Peterson kicked off a 2-4 slump. After spending a year on the sidelines due to injury, he racked up three stoppage victories in 2019, winning and defending the Titan FC Bantamweight title along the way.
He steps in for Mike Davis, who ran into weight cut complications, on two days’ notice.
I generally try to avoid the term “explosive” in these breakdowns; while the UFC broadcast team seems to have gotten better about it, there was a long stretch where it served as a catch-all adjective for them to fill dead air. For Rivera, though, the label fits.
Standing 5’6” with a 68” reach, the boxing-focused “Beast” generally prefers to operate outside of striking range; even when advancing, he idles out of reach. When it’s time to attack, he bursts forward and flurries, often starting with a lead left, Superman jab, or lead-hand “corkscrew” uppercut. He responds to attacks in similar fashion, meeting the charge with a counter left or check hook. Though he doesn’t use them enough, he’s also got some gnarly body shots with both hands and shin.
To his credit, Rivera avoids some of the pitfalls that normally hamper in-and-out strikers. For one, he’s shown the gas tank to fight in this fashion for at least four rounds without slowing down. For two, his defensive grappling is extremely solid. He’s an excellent scrambler, never accepting bad positions and generally demonstrating good timing when exploding his way out of rough spots. Even when his solid takedown defense fails him, it’s remarkably difficult to get anything going from top position against him, and he’s got a blast double in his pocket when he needs it.
What’s going to hold him back, especially in a division as stacked as Bantamweights, is how open he leaves himself. He relies heavily on his speed to make up for the fact that he oftentimes leads with his unprotected chin, and his “lower stance and swing big” response to pressure can be predictable. In addition, the fact that he can’t or won’t jab his way in rather than burst could leave him at the mercy of a lengthier striker with the footwork to maintain distance.
Overall, I see him falling just short of the top 15, though he’ll do quite well for himself against grappling specialists.
Opponent: Rivera steps up in weight to face kickboxing export Giga Chikadze, and his chances of success depend entirely on his offensive wrestling. Chikadze has half a foot of height and reach on him, plus the skills to make excellent use of them. At the same time, the Georgian remains underdeveloped on the ground. Chikadze’s probably a bit too big for Rivera to use his Plan B and a bit too rangy and skilled for Plan A.
Tape: His Titan FC appearances are on Fight Pass.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Jacksonville fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” undercard bouts at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 9 p.m. ET.
For much more on tonight’s event click here.