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UFC Long Island: Gian Villante unfazed by pressure of fighting on home turf

Gian Villante at the UFC Long Island workouts

Gian Villante at the UFC Long Island workouts at the UFC Gym in New Hyde Park, New York. July 20, 2017. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Gian Villante worked out Thursday afternoon to the sounds of Billy Joel. Because of course he did. He’s a Long Island guy, Joel’s a Long Island guy and this was the UFC Long Island open workouts at UFC Gym in New Hyde Park.

The Levittown-raised Villante said he let the people in his fantasy baseball league choose his workout music for Thursday and his walkout song for Saturday’s fight at Nassau Coliseum against Patrick Cummins.

“I could walk out to a Pampers commercial, it wouldn’t matter to me,” Villante said. “I’m gonna be in the right mindset no matter what.”

Pressure comes with being a professional athlete, a job Villante always wanted since before he starred on the football fields of MacArthur High School and Hofstra University.

So whether he’s fighting in Brazil or Australia — he’s not — or in his hometown — he is — Villante keeps things even-keeled amid the nerves and excitement of fighting in front of so many friends and family and fans in their Team Villante T-shirts.

“Your job could be on the line any second, your health could be on the line any second,” Villante said after his open workout. “This guy’s out there trying to punch your head off. It’s not like you’re going out there playing tennis. It’s always nerves in there. But, hey, it’s part of it. Been doing it long enough, better get used to it.”

This will be the 24th professional fight for Villante (15-8, 5-5 UFC) and the fourth time he’s shared a fight card with longtime friend and training partner Chris Weidman. The three previous times were in 2009 and 2010 in Ring of Combat as both fighters began their careers.

Both Villante and Cummins said they plan to push the action and do so in a proper and controlled way. Easier said than done, of course, as adrenaline often takes over during a fight.

“It’s gonna be hard with the crowd going to not force it, but just be a little smarter than that, take my shots in there and not be a berserker in there,” Villante said.

Said Cummins: “I’m going to push the pace but do it in a smart way. I think I always say that. I always want to push the pace because I know conditioning is my thing.”

Cummins (9-4, 5-0 UFC) said he wants to avoid getting caught standing in the pocket and slugging it out with Villante, a powerful striker with 10 knockouts in his career.

“I’m a wrestler,” Cummins said. “That’s my best quality, and I think that’s the key to tiring Gian out and getting the finish in this fight.”

Villante enjoys a good brawl, but he has something of a wrestling pedigree as well. He’s one of five active UFC fighters to have won a New York State wrestling championship in high school. He has stopped 82.8 percent of takedowns in his 10 UFC fights, third best among active UFC light heavyweights.

“They learn pretty quickly that I’m not just a regular guy who’s got some standup skills,” Villante said. “I’ve wrestled before and I’m pretty good at it.”

New York Sports