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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Despite ailment, LI's Gian Villante makes no excuse for UFC defeat

Gian Villante in action against Ovince St. Preux

Gian Villante in action against Ovince St. Preux at UFC 159 in Newark, N.J., on Saturday, April 27,2013. Credit: AP

The winning fighter gets the easy questions, the ones about what he thought of his victory and what he wants to do next.

The loser has to answer for why he's not asked the easy questions.

That's the nature of the post-game, be it in mixed martial arts or any other sport. Surely, there are reasons for winning and losing.

But here's the real question: when is what the losing fighter says not looked at as an excuse and instead as information previously not disclosed that offers insight into the fight?

Gian Villante and his camp struggled with that question, and indeed, its answer. Is it worth talking about how he developed a bad case of bronchitis while in Brazil to fight Fabio Maldonado at UFC Fight Night 38 on March 23? That he was coughing up multi-colored phlegm before and after the fight? That he felt like he could barely breathe?

"We're not making an excuse, I'm not saying that at all,'' said Villante's manager Dave Martin. "But he had it.''

At no point did the 28-year-old Villante, from Levittown, and his team consider pulling out of the fight. "Didn't ever cross his mind,'' Martin said. "Villante's not that type of guy.''

Martin stressed multiple times, as did Villante, that they're "not taking anything away'' from what Maldonado did in the cage that night. He won by unanimous decision, including a 10-8 round on one judge's card. Maldonado was the clear winner of the second and third rounds, of this there is no dispute.

Villante used his superior wrestling to control Maldonado in the first round and win it on all three cards. To start the second round, Villante looked slower and more exhausted.

"I felt like I was breathing out of a straw,'' Villante said.

Twitter was loaded with critiques, to be polite, about Villante's cardio and "gas tank.'' Facebook soon followed suit.

So is the instant perception conceived in social media for the 17 minutes of the fight and the moments afterward the final word? Or is it possible to update the narrative for those who choose to continue seeking knowledge? Do these questions even have definitive answers?

Villante was in terrific shape for this fight, the best he'd ever been in since preparing for his NFL tryout several years back after finishing his football career at Hofstra.

Two days after arriving in Brazil, Villante (11-5, 1-2 UFC) began feeling off -- and not the type of anguish typically associated with cutting weight during fight week. He thought nothing of it at the time, not even as he was coughing up "nasty, nasty green and yellow stuff,'' he said.

It wasn't until Villante returned to the States that he realized the extent of his illness. Villante said he left his passport on the plane and had to run back to get it in order to get through customs.

He couldn't.

"I run 18 miles a week,'' Villante said, "and I couldn't jog 200 yards back to the plane.''

He was diagnosed the following day with bronchitis and put on prescription medicine.

"I know if I say I was that sick, it just sounds like an excuse,'' Villante said. "I'm not the first person to fight sick.''

Or injured.

One week earlier, Johny Hendricks won the UFC welterweight title with a torn bicep. He suffered that almost two weeks prior and nearly pulled out of the fight. Instead, he fought, re-injured it and edged out Robbie Lawler by decision.

Hendricks' injury wasn't revealed until after the fight. Had he not been the winner, would such information be interpreted as an explanation or the dreaded "excuse.''

Fighters keep most injuries and ailments private leading up to a fight. It's the smart move. Give the opponent no reason to believe there's a weakness. That aura of toughness must prevail, especially in a sport that requires the physical skill and endurance of MMA where fists, elbows, knees and shins come flying at your head and torso with unmatched speed.

What Villante displayed in his loss should leave little room for debate. He ate shot after shot from Maldonado -- jabs to the face, punches to the body -- and stayed on his feet the entire time against the former professional boxer.

One onlooker in particular was rather impressed with what he saw in the cage that night.

"There's no doubt about it, the kid is tough as nails,'' UFC president Dana White said. "He's got a granite chin, he's got a ton of heart.''

New York Sports