Gian Villante and a few other UFC fighters were sitting around Longo & Weidman MMA gym talking one day in May 2015. OK, making fun of each other would be a more accurate description of their dialogue.
Villante, a light heavyweight from Levittown, was coming off his second straight win and his second straight $50,000 performance bonus for fight of the night.
He made it pretty clear how anyone can pick up that extra sum from the UFC: get hit in the face a lot and win the fight.
“That’s really all you gotta do,” Villante said Saturday, one night after doing the same thing and picking up another bonus check. “Just get hit a lot and win the fight.”
Villante got hit a few times, indeed, but he definitely hit his opponent Saparbek Safarov harder and more frequently to earn a TKO victory at 2:54 of the second round at UFC Fight Night in Albany. This was the UFC’s first fight in the state capital and second in the state since New York lifted its ban on mixed martial arts last March.
“I watched it again today,” Villante said of the fight. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Being in there, I thought it was terrible.”
Villante (15-7, 5-4 UFC) opened a cut under the left eye of Safarov within the first 30 seconds of the fight. He dropped Safarov twice in the first round as well, the first on a left jab to the jaw of an incoming Safarov, the second on a right uppercut.
Villante’s initial dislike of the fight stemmed from his eating a few big lefts from the UFC newcomer Safarov (8-1) of Russia. Midway through the first round, Safarov threw a left kick that Villante blocked. Safarov brought his left leg back to the ground and immediately showed to be in pain from the kick attempt.
“I saw the knee get hurt right away,” Villante said. “Every time he did it, I was running and trying to finish it and he would duck it and hit me.”
One of those punches clipped Villante and knocked him to the ground, but he popped right back up and continued to move forward.
“I got a big chin,” Villante joked. “I can get hit with anything.”
In the second round, Villante settled down, fought smarter and went to work on the leg. Three seconds into the round, he threw a kick at Safarov’s injured leg. Villante kept the pressure going and eventually ended the fight with a series of punches and elbows to Safarov up against the cage.
Villante was transported to a nearby hospital after the fight. He said he told doctors after the fight that his chest hurt earlier in the week. He said Saturday that he felt fine after the fight but he was sent to the hospital anyway. His tests were fine, Villante said, but the EKG was abnormal. “Of course it was, I had just fought 10 minutes before,” Villante said.
Villante said he left the hospital on his own, then received a message from UFC personnel to return to the hospital to receive his medical clearance. Villante said when he went back in the early morning hours, his EKG results were normal.
“I was drinking with my friends,” Villante said, “and I had to go back at 3 a.m. to get cleared.”