Former University of Tennessee linebacker and one of the former top tier light heavyweights in Strikeforce, Ovince Saint Preux (13-5) made his long-awaited UFC debut on April 27 at UFC 159 in New Jersey. He faced fellow Strikeforce veteran Gian Villante (10-4), who was also making his UFC debut.
After two rounds the fight seemed fairly close, with many people scoring it one round a piece. Then 33-seconds into the third and final round Villante suffered an accidental eye poke. Referee Kevin Mulhall immediately questioned Villante if he could see. Villante said, “No”, the bout was immediately stopped, it went to the judges’ scorecards and Ovince was awarded a Majority Technical Decision. It was just one of many odd things that occurred that night.
Ovince spoke with me following his UFC 159 victory and talked about his nerves going in, those first time “UFC jitters” and generally just how it felt to finally step inside that special cage that every MMA fighter dreams about, the UFC Octagon.
Thanks for talking with me Vince. Well, it’s over. You have officially fought and won inside the UFC Octagon. From since you first got word the fight was on, until you got back home after the fight, what was the whole experience like for you overall?
That’s a great question. There were a lot of similarities with previous fights, like the UFC logistics crew and people I know well like Burt Watson and Francois and the guys. Then there were a lot of things that I’m not used to like the size of the UFC weigh ins; at the last Strikeforce weigh ins we had maybe 50-100 people – at the UFC weigh ins there were around 2,000 -3,000. How amazingly packed the UFC events are; my last Strikeforce fight had about 3,000 people at it and when I fought at the Prudential Center [for the UFC] it was almost packed at 18,000 people. And of course being inside the UFC cage. There were UFC fans at the hotel every day, all day – and that was awesome. I don’t think I could describe to you what it was like, though I really wish I could. It would be like trying to describe color to a man who has been blind since birth.
How were you feeling in the locker room as the prelims were progressing and you knew your fight was getting closer. How were the nerves going in during those final minutes?
Well we lost a fight the day before (Catone vs Head) and that kinda messed up the backstage scheduling. I was in the same locker room as Healy and Gaff and so it made warming up a little weird as Gaff was right before me and we didn’t have a lot of room to warm up. My nerves were on edge, but I was doing my pre-fight walk-through as usual. Hitting the pads, warming up on the wall and on the ground. Then you hear Burt yell “We ROOOOLLLLLLIIIINNN!!!” and that means it’s time to go…
How did you feel during round one, were you happy with your performance and what did your coach, Eric Turner, and cornermen say to you between rounds?
I was pretty happy with the first round, I felt a little frustrated because I let him off the hook after I caught him with the left hand that wobbled him. I remember Eric [Turner] telling me to take a deep breath, relax and realize that this is what fighting in the UFC feels like. That made me laugh a little and relax.
How did you feel during round two, were you happy with your performance and what did your coach, Eric Turner, and cornermen say to you between rounds?
When I got off the stool between the 1st and 2nd round I felt pretty good but as the round started off I could feel my legs felt weak and my arms were heavy – it felt like the first round I was just fighting and when I landed some punches I think I got super psyched about being able to finish in a great fashion… then as the fight progressed I think the adrenaline wore off and my body just kinda started to shut down. I knew I didn’t have a very good round so when I went to the corner I was just glad I could sit down. According to a lot of medical tests I’ve had done my body has an amazing ability to recover very quickly. I knew if I could get a minute to rest I’d be good to go for the 3rd round. Which was very true, when I got up off the stool for the 3rd I felt great.
What did my corner say? Eric just reminded me that I had the opportunity to decide the fight and it was up to me to go make it happen. Leading up to the fight, sitting in the room and talking, Eric and I talked about Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land and in Joshua chapter 1, there’s only 18 verses but it says “Be strong and have courage” four times. So we talked about the Promised Land, the place where you’ve dreamed about going isn’t easy to get to and once you get to it it’s not easy to possess it. So he told me three times in that break to “be strong and have courage – this is the Promised Land – this is where you belong.”
That’s pretty awesome. I love that. Joe Rogan commented that he thought you may have had an adrenaline dump. Can you comment on that?
Joe Rogan was right. You spend your whole MMA life watching the UFC, but being in the cage for the first time is very tough because you realize you’re just a normal guy – not the elite MMA guys you see all the time.
Even Daniel Cormier who was an Olympic silver medalist and fought in many high profile fights, said he felt like the nerves got to him during his UFC debut. And we’ve heard so much about those first-time UFC jitters over the years. After having gone through that first fight now, what is your take on it?
Well, I’m very blessed that I won’t ever have to do that again – walk through the cage door for the first time and deal with all the UFC hoopla for the first time. I’m glad it’s out of the way for sure. There was an adrenaline dump for sure, but I also bear some of the responsibility. I got a little side tracked on the gameplan, I didn’t chain my punches together like I should have. I didn’t keep the fight in the area that favors me most and I paid for it by having a lackluster performance.
Your thoughts on Gian Villante; I know you told us you thought he was going to be your toughest fight to date. Was he? And was there anything about him that surprised you?
He was a bit faster on his initial shot than I expected, so that kinda threw me off. But I knew he couldn’t take me down or hold me down so I wasn’t really worried about that. It’s not that Gian represents a stylistic nightmare for me, I just knew he’d be tough because I’d be fighting him and the UFC jitters in my fight. Which, as it turns out, was true. If there was anything he did that surprised me were the leg kicks, he was very active with the leg kicks. However, I really only have myself to blame for that. I got away from the gameplan a bit and let him back into the fight.
Personally, I thought the stoppage was obscene. And that’s no reflection on you. You didn’t do anything wrong. Accidents happen. But, referee Kevin Mulhall literally gave Villante no time to recover. Maybe he followed the rules to the letter, I don’t know, but those are some silly rules if he did. Maybe he followed the “letter of the law” but that sure doesn’t seem like the “spirit of the law”. What was your take?
I’d like to say, on the record, that he got a bum rap. The fight shouldn’t have been stopped like that. We should have had the opportunity to really throw down in the third. I have nothing but good things to say about him, and I’m pretty sure the UFC is giving him another fight cause he got kinda robbed from a finish in this one. I hated how it ended too, because it looks like I “escaped” with a win which I don’t believe is what happened at all. That being said, I did my job, Gian did his job, the ref did his job and the judges did their job. I can’t get all caught up in that stuff. I just have to focus on doing my job better is all. If I had done a better job, there wouldn’t have been a second round. If Gian had done his job better, maybe I wouldn’t have seen the second round. Like I said it sucks, but we all did our job the best we could.