Chris Weidman gets Gian Villante in fighting shape for UFC 159

MMA fighter Gian Villante of Levittown poses for

MMA fighter Gian Villante of Levittown poses for a portrait after a strength and conditioning workout at the Professional Athletic Performance Center in Garden City. (Sept. 14, 2012) (Credit: Barry Sloan)

Gian Villante walked into Bellmore Kickboxing Academy on Friday intent on punching one of his best friends directly in the face. And if the opportunity to kick him in the head presented itself, well, so be it.

Villante expected to receive the same punishment he sought to inflict.

And that's the way it goes when two friends . . . spar with each other while training for an upcoming mixed martial arts bout.

"You become closer friends punching each other in the face," said Villante, who starred in football and wrestling at MacArthur High School and Hofstra in the early and mid-2000s. "It's a weird thing to say, but it's true. We became closer since we started doing this, since we started beating each other up."

Doing the punching and kicking with Villante was Baldwin's Chris Weidman, a longtime friend who also happens to be the No. 1 contender for the UFC middleweight title.

"I try to break him every single time," said Weidman, 28, "and he tries to do the same to me to get each other better."

Such a sparring session for two fighters who became friends in high school through wrestling is not unique. But here's something that is: Villante will fight a lefthanded striker for the first time, and he'll do it in his UFC debut Saturday.

Villante, 27, will fight fellow Strikeforce light heavyweight transplant Ovince St. Preux at UFC 159 at the Prudential Center in Newark. The preliminary bout will air live on FX, while light heavyweight champion Jon Jones headlines the pay-per-view card with a title defense against Chael Sonnen.

This may be the promotional debut for Villante (10-3), but he's no stranger to a big arena, big crowd and bright lights. Villante won his last three Strikeforce bouts, fought in front of hundreds of friends and family and done so on televised cards.

"I've been there before, so I can't say I'm going to be more nervous than usual," VIllante said.

The unusual for Villante comes in the form of St. Preux (12-5), a lefthanded striker who played linebacker at the University of Tennessee from 2001-04.

An orthodox (righthanded) fighter training to go against a southpaw can be akin to being a first-timer in the ring.

"It's awkward," trainer Keith Trimble said. "It's awkward, just because you're not used to seeing the left hand coming from the back side, or the left kicks, everything coming at your body."

The concepts are essentially the same -- circling away from an opponent's power, for example -- but they're executed in the opposite direction.

"The biggest thing fighting a lefty is your feet," Trimble said. "After that, if you just think about fighting like you normally would be fighting, it's not that big of a deal. Some people think 'Lefty, oh my God,' they get freaked out by it. But once you understand where your feet should be, for the most part, you're good."

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