As a veteran of five Strikeforce and six UFC fights, Gian Villante has seen a lot in his career. From fighting on a Daniel Cormier vs. Josh Barnett undercard and competing in New Zealand, to stepping into the Octagon in the “Fight Capital of the World,” Las Vegas, and having fans scream for his head when fighting a Brazilian in Brazil, it’s been quite a ride.
But there was nothing quite like his seventh UFC bout last November, when he fought Anthony Perosh in front of over 56,000 fans in Melbourne, Australia’s Etihad Stadium.
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“I don't think it's even possible to get much bigger than that,” Villante admits. “It was definitely a cool experience. Just walking 60 to 70 yards just to get to the ring was pretty different, but it was something I'll never forget and I'm happy to walk away with a good win.”
It was also a reminder that just when you think you’ve seen it all, something comes along to provide a jolt of excitement once again. And that’s the case with Villante.
“There's definitely still a spark,” he said. “I'm still young – I'm only 30 years old – so there's still a lot of stuff I have to experience. I haven't experienced any gold around my waist yet, so that's the next thing I'm driving for and the only thing left in my career that I really want more than anything else.”
The Long Islander is on the right track. Winner of three of his last four, Villante has compiled two Fight of the Night awards and two knockout victories in that stretch, with the only loss coming to veteran Tom Lawlor last July. But as soon as he stepped into the Octagon in Australia against Perosh, there was a confidence about Villante that almost made his victory a foregone conclusion.
“After the first punch I threw, even though he blocked it, you could read his body language and his face a little bit,” Villante said of the Perosh fight, which he won via knockout in less than three minutes. “If he's blocking my shots and it's hurting, the one that lands is gonna be a lot worse. So I knew it was pretty well in hand. With most of the guys I fight, to tell you the truth, I think I'm the bigger, stronger guy in there and I feel very physically dominant when I'm in there with these dudes. So I always do feel that confidence. That's hurt me in the past where I've gotten a little too overconfident and let myself wing a little too much and wound up getting caught with something. But I've been pretty lucky so far that I've been the bigger, stronger guy in the weight class. At 205, I think I'm just too big for most people.”
He was too big for Perosh, who retired after the bout. But when the fight ended, you would have thought it was Villante on the losing side of things, as he didn’t appear too happy with his performance. Time has changed that reaction.
“You always want to do better here and there,” he said. “When I watched it back, it really wasn't that bad as I thought it was when I was in there. (Laughs) Sometimes you just feel that things aren't as crisp as they should be, and it's getting pretty hard to fight a perfect fight. I still haven't had my perfect fight yet, but I'm getting closer, and maybe this one will be it. This will be a nice to show to do it at.”
Truer words have never been spoken because when he puts the gloves on this Saturday night in Las Vegas, Villante and his opponent, Ilir Latifi, will be the last fight on the UFC 196 card before the two headlining bouts take to the Octagon. That’s prime time placement for these light heavyweights, and with both in the lower reaches of the top 15, a win will likely be the ticket to the top 10. That’s been a long time coming for Villante, and as far as he’s concerned, he’s ready to make that leap.
“I think it's that time and it's definitely time to start making the push a little bit,” he said. “I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable in there and that's the biggest thing. It took me a little while to get my bearings in there, but I definitely feel a lot better now and I feel comfortable. I do think I can beat anyone in the division, so hopefully it's just a matter of time until I get the chance, and that's all it takes. I'll be ready to go.”