Mixed martial artist Gian Villante lifts weights during a strength...

Mixed martial artist Gian Villante lifts weights during a strength and conditioning workout at the Professional Athletic Performance Center in Garden City. (Sept. 14, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Exhausted, he continued.

Atop the mats drenched in the sweat of two dozen men at the Serra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Levittown, Gian Villante worked on various moves and positions against black belts and brown belts.

And that was just a couple of hours and a few ounces of salmon after sparring three rounds against UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman down the road in Garden City.

"When he's like that, he's more technical," said Pete Sell, a BJJ black belt and former UFC fighter. "He's thinking more instead of just using his strength."

Welcome to last Tuesday -- day nine of a 19-day training camp to prepare for what could be a make-or-break fight in the UFC for Villante. The MacArthur High School and Hofstra graduate will fight Cody Donovan next Saturday in Las Vegas at UFC 167, the promotion's 20th anniversary show.

Villante, 28, lost his UFC debut in April after an eye poke, and with the UFC trimming its roster more this year than in the past, a win is crucial.

"I have a good mind-set that I want to go in there with," said Villante (10-4, 0-1 UFC). "I'm going in there and putting it on the line, not fighting to not get tired like I did the last fight. I feel like I saved a little bit too much."

If 19 days to get ready doesn't sound like much time, that's because it's not. Fighters typically begin training camp 8 to 10 weeks out, but Villante doesn't have that luxury. He took the spot of Robert Drysdale, who failed a drug test with elevated levels of testosterone, when he got the call during Monday Night Football on Oct. 28.

A fighter in Villante's position -- lower profile, 0-1 in the promotion, in the crowded light heavyweight division -- has little leverage. He could have said no, sure, but he's healthy and had been waiting for that next call. No guarantee that phone would ring again.

"We put on fights, sometimes guys get injured and opportunities become available. In being a professional fighter, you always want to stay in shape and stay as close to weight as you can," UFC president Dana White said. "[UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva, when he calls a guy, he always asks him straight up -- you don't have to do this, can you make the fight and can you make the weight? As a professional fighter, you should always be ready to take the opportunity."

Donovan (8-3, 1-1) is coming off a loss to Ovince St. Preux, as is Villante. Although there's been a switch in opponents, Donovan has had a full camp to get ready.

For Villante, though, it's about cutting weight first. He weighed 230 when he took the fight, he said, and has to get down to 206 by Friday's weigh-ins. (The light heavyweight division limit is 205 pounds, but all fighters are granted a one-pound allowance). That's 18 days to cut 24 pounds. Not too many diet books on the market can explain how to do that.

But for fighters, especially those with a wrestling background such as Villante, it's fairly common to drop 15 pounds in the final week. Villante said he typically weighs 220 on the Monday of fight week.

Keith Trimble, Villante's head trainer at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, said the first week of training was tough mentally. "He was more nervous trying to rush everything," Trimble said.

It seemed like overnight that Villante dropped eight pounds to start his second of almost three weeks of camp. That immediately changed his mind-set.

"His confidence and spirit was a lot better from the last week," Trimble said. "He's pushing himself."

Once weight is on target, it becomes about the fight and getting into the right mind-set.

"You gotta be a little bit crazy to do this sport," Villante said. "You gotta be a little bit crazy to just take those risks. I gotta take those risks. I could probably dance around and box myself to a win, but it ain't gonna make the bosses happy. It ain't gonna make me happy. It ain't gonna make my coaches happy. Why not just go in there guns a-blazing and win?"

More MMA

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months