"I’m used to playing that role and being under the radar. Getting my hand raised is all that counts." - Ovince Saint Preux
For a fighter who has won 11 of his last 12 fights, with the only loss coming by way of decision against Gegard Mousasi in 2011, UFC light heavyweight prospect Ovince Saint Preux sure has been flying under the radar. But this southern gentleman doesn’t see that as a cause for concern.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I’m winning, I’m doing my job, and as long as I’m doing my job, more and more people are going to recognize me, so that’s why I’m not worried about it.”
That cool in a situation where many of his peers would be stomping their feet in frustration can stem from a couple of things. First, Saint Preux lived pretty long under the spotlight as a member of the University of Tennessee football squad. Second, maybe he knows that once he hits the main card of UFC 171 on Saturday against Nikita Krylov, there will be no turning back. Whatever it is, the Immokalee, Florida native is focusing on what he can control, and that’s what he does in the Octagon.
“In Immokalee we were always the underdogs,” he said. “I’m used to playing that role and being under the radar. Getting my hand raised is all that counts.”
He hasn’t disappointed yet in the UFC, following up his 6-1 Strikeforce stint with back-to-back Octagon wins over Gian Villante and Cody Donovan. But if you ask him whether he’s turned that proverbial corner in his career where everything has come together at the right time, he responds quickly with a laugh:
That doesn’t mean he’s not getting there though, and with each win, he sees the improvements.
“Sometimes I look at myself on film and then I see what I do in training, and I’m like ‘man, I need to put all this together,’” he said. “And I’m pretty close to putting everything together, but I’m still far out. With every fight, I’m still learning and I’m getting better and better. The same fighter that I was on April 27 (against Villante) was a different fighter than August 17 (against Donovan) and this is going to be a different fighter on March 15.”
Originally scheduled to face Thiago Silva, OSP instead got matched up with former heavyweight Krylov after Silva’s recent arrest and dismissal from the organization. It’s a less high profile name, but if you’ve read this far, you know that Saint Preux doesn’t get bothered too much by things that are out of his control. And after a rough 3-4 start to a pro career that began in 2008, opponent switches are really no bother.
“When I first started out, it was an experimental type of stage,” said the 30-year-old, who now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. “I didn’t care who I fought. My first pro fight, I fought (UFC vet) Rodney Wallace. We pulled up his resume and we thought we were getting ready for a boxer. The day of the fight I found out he was a three-time wrestling champ. (Laughs) And whatever I did, I knew I was gonna be in trouble. Coach said stick to the game plan and I stuck to the game plan. He ended up beating me by decision, and it was a learning experience. I took two fights on short notice that I lost, and I lost to Nik Fekete, an Olympic alternate wrestler.”
Eventually, Saint Preux hit his stride and began piling up more wins than losses. In fact, the only loss after those first seven fights was to Mousasi. The most important lesson he picked up?
“The biggest thing that held me back was my cardio,” he said. “Your cardio is your number one key in mixed martial arts and in any sport.”
And now it’s all coming together at precisely the right time. Not bad for a fighter whose light at the end of the tunnel once looked to be an oncoming train.
“I consider myself to be someone who has some special abilities, so I’m either gonna jump over the train or dodge the train.”
At this point, you almost have to believe he could.