Gian Villante’s Long Island credentials are as strong as he is.
He won Newsday’s Thorp Award as the top football player in Nassau County when he was a two-way star for MacArthur High School in 2002. He won two county wrestling titles and is one of five active UFC fighters to have won a New York State high school championship.
Villante then went to Hofstra University where he became a three-time All-American football player.
He prefers the sleeves on his shirts go no further than where his shoulders stop and his arms start. And, there’s a burger named after him at Sal’s Place in North Massapequa.
So, of course he’s all kinds of fired up to finally fight at home when he faces Patrick Cummins on the UFC Long Island card at Nassau Coliseum on July 22, right? Well, yeah, but he brings the perspective of a 22-fight veteran.
“Business as usual, go in there, get a win,” said Villante, who grew up in Levittown and trains at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. “The only thing different is I’ll have a lot more people to celebrate with. I don’t have to rush home to celebrate with all my friends and family. I can do that 10 minutes away now, I’m good.”
There are perks to fighting across the street from where he starred in college (and across a few streets from where he often works with training partner Chris Weidman). No airplanes, no passports, no extra travel expenses for his cornermen, plenty of familiar voices in the crowd supporting him. Again, though, Villante compartmentalized the significance of being one of the six Long Island-based fighters on the first UFC Long Island fight card.
It’s a familiar refrain for the 31-year-old Villante.
“My last fight was against [Mauricio] ‘Shogun’ Rua, a world champion. The fight before that was my first time ever fighting in New York, so every fight, there’s some sort of ‘Why this is the biggest fight of your life?” Villante said. “And I talk about it all the time. No matter what, your next fight after this, it’s going to be the biggest fight. It’s going to be way bigger than when I fought at Nassau Coliseum. The next fight is always the biggest fight of your career, so I just try to think of it like that. It’s nothing new, just another huge fight. They’re all huge at this point. You never want to lose any fight you’re in.”
Villante (15-7, 5-5 UFC) is ranked 13th in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, a class that, even with the return of former champion Jon Jones, isn’t the jewel of the promotion that it once was. If Villante can string together a few wins in a row, he could quickly move up the ladder. A win over No. 11 Cummins would be a good rebound after losing to No. 5 Rua last March.
Villante also appreciates the lifestyle of being a professional athlete, a job he always wanted growing up. He found his niche with mixed martial arts.
“The good thing about MMA, there’s no coach out there telling you, ‘Hey you gotta do this better, that better,’ or ‘It’s your fault this happened,’” Villante said. “In MMA, it’s your fault anything happens. Wins and losses, that’s it, it’s just on you, there’s nobody else to blame.”
There’s freedom in such a lifestyle, even with the grueling regimen of training camp for a physical and full-body sport. Villante was able to be a guest bartender on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” with Andy Cohen, work with Dana White and Matt Serra on an upcoming episode of “Dana White Lookin’ for a Fight” and cook with Lidia Bastianich.
“I’m my own boss,” Villante said. “All my other friends with these jobs waking up early and this and that. I wake up when I want, I do what I want, I have fun and then all I gotta do is go in there, get punched a couple times and punch the other guy even harder. It’s fun to me. It’s not a real job. One day I’ll have to get a real job, this ain’t it. I fight because I love it and it’s fun. One day I know I’ll have to grow up, but hopefully, that ain’t any time soon.”
|GIAN VILLANTE’S UFC FIGHT HISTORY|
|April 27, 2013||UFC 159||Ovince Saint Preux||Lost by majority decision (doctor’s stoppage), Round 3, 0:33|
|Nov. 16, 2013||UFC 167||Cody Donovan||Won by KO, Round 2, 1:22|
|March 23, 2014||UFC Natal||Fabio Maldonado||Lost by unanimous decision|
|June 28, 2014||UFC Auckland||Sean O’Connell||Won by split decision|
|April 18, 2015||UFC on Fox 15||Corey Anderson||Won by KO, Round 3, 4:18|
|July 25, 2015||UFC Chicago||Tom Lawlor||Lost by KO, Round 2, 0:28|
|Nov. 14, 2015||UFC 193||Anthony Perosh||Won by KO, Round 1, 2:03|
|March 5, 2016||UFC 196||Ilir Latifi||Lost by unanimous decision|
|Dec. 9, 2016||UFC Albany||Saparbek Safarov||Won by TKO, Round 2, 2:07|
|March 11, 2017||UFC Fortaleza||Mauricio Rua||Lost by KO, Round 3, 0:59|
|July 22, 2017||UFC Long Island||Patrick Cummins|
Photographer: Chris Ware
Video editor: Greg Inserillo