Gian Villante's UFC career has brought him around the world, with fights in Brazil, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Next up on passport stamp list for the Levittown-raised Villante will be the Czech Republic when he faces Michal Oleksiejczuk at UFC Prague on Saturday. This fight, on the main card and streaming in the U.S. on ESPN+ in the afternoon, will be the 15th of Villante's UFC career, which began in 2013.
At age 33, and after 10 years in mixed martial arts, Villante said he plans to fight until he's 35. Villante (17-10, 7-7 UFC) also spoke about his upcoming bout against Poland's Oleksiejczuk (12-2, 1 no contest), who returns from a one-year suspension for testing positive for clomiphene, a prohibited substance by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and other topics in this wide-ranging Q&A with Newsday after a sparring session a week before he left for Prague.
Newsday: Other than time zones and languages, what's different about fighting out of the country?
Villante: I kinda like it. You can just say your phone doesn’t work so you don’t have to answer people’s texts. There's not a lot of things on TV you can understand so you don’t have to worry about TV. Just relaxing, man. Nothing to worry about but going out there and fighting. I mean, listen, I like the whole talking to other people and doing media stuff, but sometimes it’s just cool to go out there and fight and have nothing else to worry about.
Newsday: What about Prague? Folks say it's an awesome city.
Villante: I'm there early but you're not enjoying anything. You're cutting weight. You pretty much stay in the hotel and just be miserable. I’ll spend two or three days there after. I still might change my flight and stay later. Who knows? But a lot of times when you're out there that long, you just want to get back and celebrate a win with your friends and family.
Newsday: You mentioned before having nothing to worry about but the fight. Are you worried about this fight?
Villante: I've been doing it so long. Right now I can say it, I don’t know how I'll be on fight night, but this is the least, I don’t know if nervous is the word, but this is the most carefree I’ve been going into a fight. For whatever reason. I don’t think it’s a good thing, but for whatever reason I haven’t thought about the fight at all. Just having fun, training. I know I have the fight soon and that’s what I'm working towards. That’s why I'm in the gym. For whatever reason, it just feels like a business trip. I don’t know why, what’s changed.
The last fight, still had that weird, man, the angst of fighting. Now, it’s whatever. I feel fine about it. I feel good about it. I feel almost like a [Donald] Cerrone about it. They say he gets really nervous before a fight, but like, you know he's like "I'll fight anywhere, any place, any time." That’s kinda how I feel about it. I don’t know why.
Newsday: You've had four split decisions in a row, with two wins and two losses. How much do you think about that as you prepare for this fight?
Villante: I don’t think about it that much. It could be four wins, or it could be four losses, which is crazy. I do honestly think I won every fight. I can't think of one fight where I'm like, shoot, I lost. That’s why Ed Herman got on the mic last time and was super mad and telling the crowd. I get where he’s coming from. All these fights, if you look at me, I look completely fine and the other guy doesn’t look that good usually. It’s crazy. I just gotta keep plugging away and hopefully it just goes your way. I'm not a points guy. I'm a guy that hits them harder than they hit me.
Newsday: You and Stipe Miocic are close friends. Did you go to Cleveland again to work with him?
Villante: I went there. For some reason, I was in shape.
They have good, fun, tough guys to go with. And [Stipe's coach] Marcus [Marinelli] is very much like [my coach] Keith [Trimble]. Very hard-nosed dude. Wants things done, and you better get it done. If we’re gonna do three rounds, all of a sudden he decides we’re gonna do five, in the middle of there’s no being like "Ehhhhhh, no thanks, coach." There’s none of that. You say, "Yes, sir" and that’s it.
Newsday: What happened to you on the ice in that video Stipe posted on social media?
Villante: I went in one morning just to train with Marcus. We were just doing some lifting together. He’s a Westside guy. Westside Barbell is what my strength program was based on in college football [at Hofstra]. They’re the strongest people in the world. All the strongest people in the world come from Columbus, Ohio. Every strength record is pretty much held by this one gym. Marcus is one of the first guys to ever train there. I love when I go there. I love lifting with them.
I went to do a lift with him in the morning. He’s got all the cool machines. All this good stuff. I told him, I busted my butt really good. He’s just laughing at me. Then a couple hours later, he sends me the video him and Stipe posted online. I guess he has security cameras out there. I went down, I was rolling around and I couldn’t get up. I was hurting, man.
Newsday: How would you assess your sparring session today?
Villante: A little bit more of the wrestling added in that I usually don’t do. Just because I think maybe it’s something I need to do to get past this split-decision stuff, is maybe add a little of this wrestling in that they’ve been asking me to do for 10 years now. Maybe mix it in, I don’t know. I know if I can do it in here, maybe I can do it in the fight. If you don’t do it here, you won't do it in a fight. I still might not do it in the fight.
Newsday: Has it been difficult to consciously work in more wrestling during your training?
Villante: I mean, I don’t really like it. I like knocking people out. I like hitting people harder than they hit me. I like putting damage on people. Wrestling isn't damaging to me. It’s point-scoring to me. Do I like doing it? No, but I'm thinking maybe I can do a little damage on the ground. We’ll see. I don’t know if I’ll do it, but I know it’s there if I need it.
Newsday: You're 33 now. How much longer do you think you'll keep fighting?
Villante: I think 35 is good. I’ll fight when I’m 35, maybe not when I’m 36. If I can do two more years in this, I’ll be happy. But who knows? I could go on a run where I win 10 in a row, and why would I retire? I could go on a run where I lose 10 in a row and be done a lot earlier than that. The way I’ve been going right now, if I can do two more years, I’ll be happy.
Newsday: What's next then?
Villante: Went to school to be a teacher. So I might go back and do that. Still love working with kids, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I’m a big kid myself. I think that would be fun. Maybe coach a little bit. I think I relate well to the young ’uns. Maybe do something like that.
Newsday: Which grades would you be most interested in?
Villante: I was most influenced by my wrestling coach in [MacArthur] high school, so maybe a high school thing would be a good thing. He changed my life. I wasn’t always the best kid, kind of a little bit of a dirtbag. And then he kinda sent me on my way. He said, "Listen, you wanna be like everyone else or do you wanna be something special, something different? You could be like everyone else. It’s easy to be that guy, but try being the other guy." Coach Howard Greenblatt. He’s someone who set me on the right path. And because of that influence, I would love to influence someone the same way. You never know where it's gonna come from. He was probably the hundredth guy to tell me something like that, but for whatever reason, it stuck. I think high school might be the best path for me because that’s who influenced me the most.