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On Dec. 9, Albany will be hosting the Ultimate Fighting Championship for UFC Fight Night 102 from the Times Union Center. This comes on the heels of the last month’s record-breaking UFC 205, the company’s first event in the state of New York since Mixed Martial Arts was legalized earlier this year. In preparation for this event, Justin Berglund, from the Albany Student Press sat down with UFC fighter Gian Villante, a New York native and #15 Light Heavyweight fighter in the world who will be fighting this Friday. Villante was scheduled to fight #12 ranked Patrick Cummins before he pulled out with an injury, and will now face Saparbek Safarov.

Gian Villante, you’re about a week from fight night, how has the training camp been and how is your weight cut coming along?

The training camp is going good. I was supposed to fight UFC 205, but a small injury pushed me back a few weeks so I am actually a bit ahead of schedule. I came into this training camp at about 220lbs, so I’m right where I want to be.

Before we talk about your fight, how are your teammates Chris Weidman and Aljamain Sterling doing? (Weidman lost at UFC 205 and Sterling was pulled from Fight Night 102 with an injury.)

It’s been a bit of a tough go over there in Long Island. With (Al) Iaquinta being injured and not being able to fight, Aljo just being pulled out of a fight. With Chris, it was tough because he was winning that fight until he got caught but you can’t let other people and what’s going on with them affect you. You have to just go out there and perform a job. I’ve been doing it for a long time. The good thing is we have all been training really hard, but it’s been tough. Chris is on vacation right now, but before he left he was in the gym the day he got his stitches out helping me wrestle. So it’s just great to have a friend like that there to help me and make sure I’m ready to fight.

Even though you grew up in Long Island, is there any connection you have to Albany?

I played football at Hofstra as a Linebacker. We played Albany a few times. No specific memories, but I do remember whooping their butts a few times.

Actually, do you mind if I tell a bit of a personal story? I just did a benefit at my high school. We do it every year in honor of a friend of mine, Richard Bailey, from my high school that was killed while attending the University at Albany. He was walking home, and he was shot in a gang-related violence thing. He was a tight end on my high school football team. They actually caught the kid, and now every year we do a benefit in his honor. And all the Albany cops and the detectives that caught him come to Long Island and come to the benefit. I was telling them I will be fighting at the Times Union Center, so I probably will have some local people from Albany that will come out to see me fight.

Your original opponent, #12 ranked Patrick Cummins, just pulled out of the fight with an injury. What would a win over a higher ranked guy like him done for your standing in the Light Heavyweight Division?

I think our division is a like a washing machine. It’s crazy. It’s topsy-turvy. You know, a lot of things can happen. The champs Daniel Cormier. I think I can go beat Daniel Cormier tomorrow. There’s a lot of crazy things going on in our division. Once Jon Jones went out, I feel like it’s open season now. I think, maybe give it a year, maybe win another two in a row, I think that could get me a title shot. My goal is to get that belt around my waist, and I’m closer than some people might think.

Is being the champion always the end goal? Is that still your motivation after a loss or a setback?

Yeah, you know for some guys in other divisions like 145 and 155, some guys have 8 or 9 wins in a row and can’t get a title shot. (Max) Holloway is fighting at UFC 206 for the 145 belt. Khabib (Nurmagemedov) is 25-0 and still can’t get a title shot. It’s crazy. If they were at 205, they would have gotten a title shot a long time ago. I think at Light Heavyweight, you win 2 or 3 in a row against the right guys and you can hopefully find yourself fighting for a title.

After a fight, do you normally stay in the area you’re fighting in to celebrate with your team, or do you wait until you get back home?

Usually, I have to wait until I get back home, I’ve fought all over the world. But the good thing about fighting up in Albany is I’ll have a lot of friends and family up there. We’ll definitely try and find a spot to celebrate a little bit. Whether that’s in the hotel or wherever, we’ll find a place. We’ll turn Albany upside down. (Laughs) Like I said, I know a bunch of the cops, so I think I’m okay.

UFC Fight Night 102 comes to Albany December 9th from the Times Union Center. Along with Gian Villante, the headline bout sees #10 ranked Heavyweight Derrick Lewis take on #15 Shamil Abdurakhimov. The entire fight will be streamed on the UFC’s digital platform, UFC Fight Pass. Tickets are still on sale now, either at the Times Union Center Box Office, Ticketmaster, or UFC.com.

Justin Berlund is a sports writer for the Albany Student Press.

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