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UFC 268: Gian Villante ends his MMA career at MSG

Gian Villante faced Chris Barnett in a heavyweight

Gian Villante faced Chris Barnett in a heavyweight bout at UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 6, 2021. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan/Joseph D. Sullivan

Gian Villante wanted to win his final fight, for all the reasons you’d expect: the satisfaction of victory, a nice ending to a long career and the extra paycheck.

But there was another reason. He wanted to give a shoutout to his football players, the 8th graders at Salk Middle School and the varsity players at MacArthur High School in Levittown.

The first part didn’t happen, though, as Villante lost by TKO to Chris Barnett at UFC 268 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The second part, though, he made sure that happened.

"Say hello to all my Seahawks, all my Generals, all the people in attendance, all the guys watching at home, I love you all," Villante told Newsday backstage after the fight. "Thank you so much for all the support and reintroducing me to something I didn’t realize how much I missed. I love it. Thank you for helping me find the next path. Coaching those guys made it as clear as could be that’s the next thing I want to be doing."

Villante retired from MMA on Saturday night and will pursue teaching and coaching. He is finishing the remaining few credits for his degree from Hofstra in June. He started coaching this past season.

But on Saturday night, there was the matter of one last fight. One last go-round.

"It was a fun ride," the Levittown-raised Villante said. "I enjoyed it, whatever the result."

Barnett (22-7) landed a spinning wheel kick that sent Villante to the mat in the second round. He then moved in and punched his way to a TKO as referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the heavyweight bout at the 2:23 mark. Villante (17-14) got back to his feet right after the stoppage and was in good spirits as his career came to an end.

"You don’t see too many 265-pound guys throwing spinning kicks. Credit to him," Villante said. Cool way to go out, at MSG. No regrets."

Barnett was the first fighter on the early prelims to be interviewed inside the octagon by Joe Rogan. Barnett used much of that time to praise Villante and build him after losing his retirement fight in front of a home crowd.

"My biggest show of respect is taking my moment and giving it to someone else," Barnett said in his post-fight news conference.

"Real classy," Villante said to Barnett when they crossed paths backstage.

"That made a huge difference, even for me," said Chris Weidman, Villante’s longtime friend and cornerman.

The two have known each other since they wrestled in high school nearly two decades ago. They came up together in wrestling and again later in mixed martial arts.

"Just thinking about our whole careers, I started to get emotional," Weidman said about the locker room before the fight. "I cried twice."

Villante said he didn’t get too emotional before the fight.

"Chris was trying to get me emotional all week," said Villante, who was in good spirits backstage after the fight as he said his goodbyes to UFC staffers, officials and the friendly faces built upon 10 years in the promotion.

New York Sports