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A fighter's last hurrah: Gian Villante to wrap up career at UFC 268

Gian Villante coaches the 8th-grade football team for

Gian Villante walked into his new home in Levittown and hung on the banister his drawstring bag, the contents of which contained key ingredients to his new life.

He hugged his fiancée, Katie, checked in with their 22-month-old son, Gianluca, and tended to their two-week-old daughter, Joey. Throw in a few pets of the family dog, Murphy, to complete this portrait of family life.

Soon afterward, Villante would grab his MMA fighter bag, packed with the tools of his trade for the past 12 years and for which he will need just one more time this Saturday, and head to Bellmore Kickboxing MMA for one of his final training sessions ahead of his heavyweight fight against Chris Barnett at UFC 268. It was his first fight at Madison Square Garden. It was his last fight in the cage.

"Too much of this stuff, man," the 36-year-old Villante told Newsday recently. "I've been in the UFC for almost 10 years now. So I mean, that's long enough. And that's more than most guys so I'm proud of myself. I lasted that long, but you know, it takes a toll."

Villante dictated the pace in the first round with his pushkicks, and avoided Barnett's spinning kicks. But in the second round, Barnett landed a spinning wheel kick that dropped VIllante. Barnett then moved in and threw punches until referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the bout midway through the second round.

"He's got the head of a cinderblock," Barnett said about Villante.

Villante, who trained under Keith Trimble at Bellmore Kickboxing MMA for his entire career, debuted in the UFC on April 27, 2013, losing a technical majority decision after an eye poke against Ovince St. Preux at UFC 159 in New Jersey. Four of his five Strikeforce bouts before that took place under then-UFC parent company Zuffa LLC’s banner.

"I've lasted a long time, been able to stay in their good graces by taking a lot of punches and being entertaining when I go in there," said Villante, winner of three Fight of the Night bonuses in his career. "I could go and wrestle guys and lay on them and be a boring fighter, but that's not who I am. I like to go out there and slug and have fun and that in turn has given me a 10-year career where I thrived, made a little bit of decent money here, enjoyed myself a lot and enjoyed the whole ride every second of the way."

Villante entered UFC 268 ranked sixth in UFC light heavyweight history in significant strikes landed with 741. His 84.5% takedown defense ranked fifth in the division, which helps explains why his 1 minute, 20 seconds of bottom position time is eighth-best at light heavyweight.

His decade in the UFC has taken Villante (17-14, 7-11 UFC) around the world, from Brazil to Australia to the Czech Republic to New Zealand to cooking with celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich to guest bartending on a Bravo TV talk show. Not too bad for a kid from Levittown.

That career — along with two previous years in the regional MMA circuit where he won the Ring of Combat heavyweight and light heavyweight titles plus playing football and wrestling in high school and college — has left Villante in some physical pain. Not debilitating, but definitely more than just the typical "getting old" stuff.

Still, he wouldn’t change a thing.

"I don't really walk down stairs too great anymore. The body's taken a beating, man," Villante said. "Between football, and this, and wrestling, it's taken a pretty good beating. But I've enjoyed it. I wouldn't give it back. I'll take this pain for what was given to me."

Light Heavyweights Patrick Cummins and Gian Villante fight
Ovince St. Preuz fought Gian Villante at UFC
UFC fighter Gian Villante of Levittown works out
Gian Villante, from Levittown, feeds chewing gum to
NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Gian Villante celebrates
UNIONDALE, NY - JULY 22: Patrick Cummins (L)
NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 18: Gian Villante punches
Gian Villante has spent nearly a decade fighting in the UFC, something not every fighter in the promotion can boast.

The majority of athletes don’t get to make the call on when they walk away from their sport. In this sense, Villante wins. The overwhelming majority of MMA fighters will need to find new employment to support themselves and their families once they retire. In this sense, Villante is on the path to winning.

His post-fighting career was something he always thought about, and his plan began to take hold earlier this year. Villante returned to Hofstra to earn the remaining credits he needs to earn his bachelor’s degree in physical education.

"I’m going to graduate Hofstra in June and become a teacher and work with kids," Villante said. "People might say, you know, UFC or NFL or whatever is a dream job. Being a teacher and being able to work with kids every day and go to school in sweats — that's the dream job to me."

In between training for this fight, and taking three classes at Hofstra, and moving into a new house, and having a newborn, and raising a toddler alongside his fiancée, Villante also coaches the eighth-grade football team at Jonas E. Salk Middle School and assists with the junior varsity and varsity football teams at MacArthur High School, where he won Newsday's Thorp Award as the best football player in Nassau and was a state champion in wrestling.

So, yeah, he’s a bit busy.

Gian Villante coaches the 8th-grade football team for
Gian Villante coaches the 8th-grade football team for
MacArthur assistant coach Gian Villante talks to his
Gian Villante coaches the eighth-grade football team at Jonas E. Salk Middle School and assists on the varsity and JV teams at MacArthur High School in Levittown. (Photos by Mark LaMonica, Peter Frutkoff)

But on that football field, watching his players improve week to week and enjoy the sport he grew up playing and loving, there’s no sign of Villante feeling overwhelmed by the complexities of transitioning into a new career.

"Being back there and coaching with these kids, I didn't realize how much I loved and missed football," Villante said. "I'm having so much fun. It’s the best thing in the world. I’m head-butting guys before games, it's great. I'm loving it. And the relationships you build with the kids? Man, I can't tell you. I have so many kids and I'm like, 'Man, I want to hang out with them.' They’re like the coolest kids in the world."

Did he leave his gloves in the cage at MSG after his fight, a popular and symbolic gesture among MMA fighters as they depart their field of play for the final time?

"I'm not a show guy. I don't need the attention," Villante said. "I don't want to be popular. I don't care how many Instagram followers I have. My social media consists of my kids and eighth-grade football. I like living in a little bit of silence."

Division Event Date Opponent Result Method Move Round Time
Heavyweight Ring of Combat 23 Feb. 20, 2009 Randy Durant Win TKO Cut 1 0:35
Heavyweight Ring of Combat 24 April 17, 2009 Paul White Win Submission Rear-naked choke 1 1:46
Heavyweight Ring of Combat 25 June 12, 2009 Joe Abouata Win TKO Punches 1 1:48
Heavyweight Ring of Combat 26 Sept. 11, 2009 Rob Wince Win KO Head kick 2 1:25
Heavyweight Ring of Combat 27 Nov. 20, 2009 Marcelo Donald Pereira Win KO Punches 1 3:59
Heavyweight Ring of Combat 28 Feb. 19, 2010 Mike Cook Win Submission Rear-naked choke 1 0:40
Light Heavyweight Ring of Combat 29 April 16, 2010 Demetrius Richards Loss TKO Arm injury 1 3:27
Light Heavyweight Ring of Combat 33 Dec. 3, 2010 Joseph Reyes Win TKO Punches 1 1:03
Light Heavyweight Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva Feb. 12, 2011 Chad Griggs Loss TKO Punches 1 2:49
Light Heavyweight Strikeforce Challengers 16 June 24, 2011 Lorenz Larkin Loss Unanimous decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight Strikeforce Challengers 18 Aug. 12, 2011 Keith Berry Win Unanimous decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine Jan. 7, 2012 Trevor Smith Win TKO Punches 1 1:05
Light Heavyweight Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier May 19, 2012 Derrick Mehmen Win Unanimous decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC 159 April 27, 2013 Ovince St. Preux Loss Majority decision   3 0:33
Light Heavyweight UFC 167 Nov. 16, 2013 Cody Donovan Win TKO Punches 2 1:22
Light Heavyweight UFC Fight Night 38 March 23, 2014 Fabio Maldonado Loss Unanimous decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC Fight Night 43 June 28, 2014 Sean O'Connell Win Split decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC on Fox 15 April 18, 2015 Corey Anderson Win TKO punches 3 4:18
Light Heavyweight UFC Fight Night July 25, 2015 Tom Lawlor Loss TKO punches 2 0:27
Light Heavyweight UFC 193 Nov. 14, 2015 Anthony Perosh Win KO punches 1 2:56
Light Heavyweight UFC 196 March 5, 2016 Ilir Latifi Loss Unanimous decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC Albany Dec. 9, 2016 Saparbek Safarov Win TKO punches 2 2:07
Light Heavyweight UFC Fortaleze March 11, 2017 Mauricio Rua Loss TKO punches 3 0:59
Light Heavyweight UFC Long Island July 22, 2017 Patrick Cummins Loss Split decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC 220 Jan. 20, 2018 Francimar Barroso Win Split decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC Utica June 1, 2018 Sam Alvey Loss Split decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC Moncton Oct. 27, 2018 Ed Herman Win Split decision   3 5:00
Light Heavyweight UFC Prague Feb. 23, 2019 Michal Oleksiejczuk Loss TKO liver punch 1 1:34
Heavyweight UFC Vegas 4 July 27, 2020 Maurice Greene Loss Submission arm triangle 3 3:44
Heavyweight UFC Vegas 16 Dec. 5, 2020 Jake Collier Loss Unanimous decision   3 5:00
Heavyweight UFC 268 Nov. 6, 2021 Chris Barnett Loss TKO punches 2 2:23

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