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."
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.
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."
|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|