Former University of Tennessee linebacker and Strikeforce veteran Ovince Saint Preux (12-5) makes his long-awaited UFC debut this Saturday at UFC 159 in New Jersey when he takes on fellow Strikeforce vet Gian Villante (10-3).
Saint Preux put together an eight-fight win streak between 2010-2011, including five wins under the Strikeforce banner with victories over the likes of Antwain Britt (7-3), Benji Radach (21-6-1) and Abongo Humphrey (11-6).
In December 2011, Saint Preux got a shot at former Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Gegard Mousasi (34-3-2), taking him the distance but ultimately losing a unanimous decision. Saint Preux bounced back in his next and final Strikeforce fight with a third round knockout win over T.J. Cook (12-5). That was in August 2012. Since then, Strikeforce was bought by the UFC and Saint Preux has been patiently waiting on the sidelines for his next fight.
A guest on Pro MMA Now Radio Sunday night, Saint Preux talked about how he’s feeling as Saturday draws near. “Man I’m definitely excited,” he said. “I mean I’m making my UFC debut so how excited am I supposed to be? I’m excited, but also nervous too, but you know, everything happens for a reason. I know I’m here for a reason and I’m just going to make some things happen.”
After fighting five times in 2009, six times in 2010 and three times in 2011, due to the Strikeforce situation, Saint Preux was relegated to only having one fight in 2012. When he steps in the Octagon at UFC 159 it will have been more than eight months since his last fight. He talked about what this wait and this whole Strikeforce ordeal has been like.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time I wasn’t the only fighter going through that situation,” Saint Preux said. “A lot of other fighters in Strikeforce were actually going through that. I mean Strikeforce had the main card on Showtime, but when they got rid of the Challengers Series, that’s when everything kind of went in tight and every fighter was kind of looking for a fight. But I understood the situation that was going on. It was just one of them things where you had to sit down and be patient about it, and that’s one thing I have is a lot of patience. I was bummed up about it but I wasn’t blaming anybody about it. Just different business situations that came into play and they just couldn’t get every fighter the fight they wanted right away.”
Villante is currently riding a three-fight win streak. Like Saint Preux, he also has six wins via knockout and played collegiate football as a linebacker. Saint Preux shared his thoughts on Villante as an opponent. “It’s kind of funny, we’re the only two Strikeforce guys fighting each other in the UFC,” he said. “Every Strikeforce guy has been matched up against a UFC guy, so it’s kind of interesting. At the same time, we’re two former football players, very powerful, very explosive type of guys. A lot of people are already talking about the fight is not going to make it three rounds at all. So it should be quite exciting.”
Saint Preux added, “Gian is definitely an explosive type of guy, really really good wrestling. He controls the pace of the fight pretty well and stuff. So, my hat’s off to him. He’s probably going to be the toughest opponent that I’ve fought, besides like fighting Gegard, but he’s definitely going to probably be the toughest opponent I’ve fought, just because we come from similar backgrounds and stuff. I know he’s going to have a lot of power. He knows I’m going to have a lot of power. It’s one of those things where the fight could change in a matter of seconds between the both of us.”
It’s been an interesting road for Saint Preux who originally got into MMA after college as just a way to stay in shape. Training at Knoxville Martial Arts Academy in Tennessee, it was his coach Eric Turner who told him he was too good just to train, that he needed to fight. “I was like I’ll give it a try,” Saint Preux said. “I won my first fight and I wanted more. I actually told my trainer about five years ago, should I go find a career or should I start fighting? And I sat down and told him, how far do you think I could make it in this sport? And he told me one day you can be a UFC champion.”
Saint Preux said that was all he needed to hear. He put together a game plan. “My game plan was, okay, I’m going to focus everything on training, working out, being the best fighter I can be. And I knew when I first started I was going to end up losing more than I gained, but when I actually made it to where I needed to make it, which is to UFC, I was going to end up gaining all my losses.”
Saint Preux credits his coach, Eric Turner, for having seen in him something back then he didn’t even see in himself. “Eric knows me better than anybody. If Eric put me in the cage with a gorilla and was like oh yeah you can beat him, and I was like alright coach I don’t know if I can beat a gorilla, but if you say I can beat a gorilla I’m going to go in there.”
“He knows me better than I know myself. Sometimes I second guess myself and he’s like don’t worry about it. Even when I fought on the Strikeforce card against Benji Radach, he was like oh yeah you’re going to kill him. And I’m like looking at him, okay, Benji’s pretty good. He’s got a good pedigree on him. I was kind of second guessing myself, but he was like yeah, you’re going to beat him. … And it ended up being a one-sided fight. It’s just one of them things, if Eric tells me to fight a gorilla, I’m like okay, I don’t know how I’m supposed to beat this gorilla, but if you say I can beat him, I can beat him.”
Follow Ovince Saint Preux on Twitter at @003_OSP and listen to our entire interview with Ovince Saint Preux on Pro MMA Now Radio and stay close to ProMMAnow.com for all your UFC 159 event coverage.