Two summers ago, Huntington’s Matt Frevola found himself on the canvas and looking up at the wrong side of record books and highlight reels.
Last January, though, he fought his way onto the more fun and rewatchable side of the UFC record books.
“Your losses don’t define you,” Frevola told Newsday about that seven-second knockout loss, the fastest in UFC lightweight history. “Everybody faces setbacks. What really defines who you are as a person is how you come back from setbacks. After that loss, it was tough. But I got back to it.”
With a first-round stoppage that included a UFC record-tying four knockdowns in one round.
“I went to the people who I trusted the most, Ray Longo and my team. They built me back up, Frevola said. “I went from my worst performance right to my best performance.”
This Saturday, Frevola (9-3-1) begins his new UFC contract with a fight against Ottman Azaitar at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden. It is the featured prelim bout on a card headlined by a middleweight title fight between champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Alex Pereira. Frevola’s bout will stream on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ shortly before 8 p.m.
The two were first supposed to fight each other in January 2021 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, but Azaitar was pulled from the card and cut from the UFC several hours before weigh-ins after violating COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Frevola faced Arman Tsarukyan instead, losing a unanimous decision.
Azaitar (13-0, 10 knockouts) was later brought back by the UFC but hasn’t fought since before that incident, which reportedly involved an unsanctioned person permeating the bubble and delivering him a bag which allegedly contained potatoes.
“As soon as I heard that the UFC let him back in, I wanted that fight back because we jave unfinished business and we're going to handle it,” Frevola said. “I'm done with this whole potato [expletive]. I'm done with all this talk. I'm just ready to fight. I'm going to be showing up, be on weight. I'm ready to fight, and he better be ready. The talk is over. No more potatoes for him.”
Azaitar talked about the incident on Fight Island but didn’t elaborate or clarify much.
“If I wanted to sneak anything in, I could have done it without any Mission Impossible or sending Spider-Man to give Batman something and Ant-Man make small big and Superman fly up,” Azaitar said at UFC 281 media day on Wednesday.
Asked about his abundance of superhero references in one sentence, Azaitar said, “I belong to these guys. You know, Ottman, Batman, Ant-Man.”
Azaitar’s last fight was in September 2020, a lengthy layoff that took him a while to push through.
“It was a bit hard to get back to training,” Azaitar said. “I'm surrounded by many good and positive people who pushed me, and the motivation came back very fast. So getting back to training was easier than expected.”
Frevola has twice prepared to face Azaitar, known mostly for his striking. But two years is a long time to develop new skills. Frevola said he’s not worried.
“He’s a righty boxer with heavy hands, throws a kick here and there, wants to keep it standing,” Frevola said.
“This is another undefeated guy,” Frevola added. “The last guy I fought was undefeated, gave him his first loss. And, you know, this guy's undefeated and I'm going to give him his first loss. This guy needs to be humbled. And who better to humble him than me?"