Mark La Monica Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial arts. In a past life, he blogged about "Entourage" and pop culture and co-hosted ExploreTV.

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One lesson at a time for young mixed martial artist Gian Villante.

The former All-American wrestler at MacArthur High School and football player at Hofstra University grew as a fighter Friday night despite losing by unanimous decision to Lorenz Larkin at Strikeforce Challengers 16 in Kent, Wash.

Villante, 25, had the pace dictated for him by Larkin in the second and third rounds but did not lose his composure this time. He stayed calm. A second straight loss in Strikeforce, yes. But growth and development, too. And in a way, that's what the Strikeforce Challengers series is about -- the stars of tomorrow.

In his February bout from the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J., Villante tossed strategy across the way into the end zone at New Meadowlands Stadium from the first punch. He and Chad Griggs put on a wildly entertaining yet technically undisciplined slugfest. Haymakers and head kicks, body shots and beatdowns. Villante lost that bout by first-round TKO, but walked away from the cage knowing exactly what went wrong. He lost his cool. Fought with his biceps, not his brains.

Fighters must learn from every loss (and every win), especially in a sport that combines no less than six disciplines of martial arts and continues to evolve with each spinning back fist or front leg kick knockout.

Villante (7-3) was aggressive in the first round against Larkin, using a trio of leg kicks to close the distance and score the takedown. The former Ring of Combat champion at both light heavyweight and heavyweight maintained complete control of Larkin for the final four minutes to win round one.

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Rounds two and three went slightly differently. Larkin pushed the pace with his striking, and Villante couldn't get close enough to turn his superior wrestling skills to his advantage. The old Villante would have started swinging like it was a barroom brawl.

Beyond the first round, nothing seemed to go right for Villante. Not the second round, not the third round, not even his walk to the cage.

Villante was introduced first, only he wasn't. Villante, wearing a white John Thomas Financial T-shirt tucked into his Hofstra football sweatpants, stood in the tunnel, the camera pointed at him and . . . the announcer read the intro for Larkin instead. The broadcasters often mispronounced his name, too.

An MMA fight rarely goes according to plan, but that usually means inside the cage, not outside.



Notes & quotes

Westbury's Pete "Drago" Sell (9-5) won the Ring of Combat welterweight title two Fridays ago in his comeback fight after a two years away . . . Earlier this week, another Serra-Longo Fight Team member secured a second fight in the UFC. Costantinos Philippou, from Massapequa via Cyprus, replaces Riki Fukuda and fights Rafael Natal at UFC 133 in Philadelphia on Aug. 6. Philippou (7-2) lost his UFC debut by decision to Nick Catone in March . . . Former Hofstra wrestler Rich Attonito (9-4) fights on the undercard against Daniel Roberts Sunday night at UFC Live on Versus. Watch it live on