Ovince St. Preux’s First Fight

Fightland Blog

By Jeff Harder

Back in July 2007, Ovince St. Preux was years away from the UFC. When the former defensive end and linebacker for the University of Tennessee appeared at Stateline MMA’s Crossing the Line IV: Bad Blood in Bristol, Virginia, he was just another amateur making a debut, fighting free of charge against Eric Orta, another faceless name on the undercard. The result of that night never made its way onto St. Preux’s official ledger, but that single round remains inerasable, the way first experiences often are. Before he faces Nikita Krylov at UFC 171 this weekend, St. Preux spoke with Fightland about his first MMA fight—the nerves, the exhaustion, the muted victory, and the reluctance that only stopped when the cage door closed.

Ovince St. Preaux: I started in MMA as a hobby—the reason being because a lot of times, when you play football and you stop, what ends up happening is that now that you don’t have to work out, a lot of guys end up gaining weight. I wanted to do MMA basically as something to keep me in shape, but it was something I kind of fell in love with. I was picking up everything my trainer was showing me, and one thing led to another.

I wasn’t begging to get a fight at all. My trainer asked, “Vince, you want a fight?” No. “Vince I’ll get you a fight.” Ehh I don’t think I wanna fight. I said, “Look, I don’t wanna get hit.” And he said, “Look, you’re gonna get hit, but you’re not gonna get hit hard.” He had two 16-ounce boxing gloves and he told me to put my hands up. I put them up and he kind of hit me on the side of my arm and said, “That’s the hardest you’re gonna get hit.” And at the time, I wasn’t thinking about the logic of it. I was just like, “Okay, cool.”

I was still thinking in the back of my head that I didn’t want to fight. But I finally knew there was no turning back when I was actually in the cage and they locked the door. “Oh no. I can’t tell them I don’t wanna fight now.”

I looked down at my hands and I had some four-ounce gloves on. I thought, “Wait, these aren’t 16 ounces. There’s 12 ounces missing.” And it’s funny, everything kind of hit me at that moment. Aw shoot, I got tricked. But like I said, I was locked in the cage and I couldn’t do anything. So I took a deep breath, bit down on the mouthpiece, and I was like, “Well, I guess I gotta fight now.”

For my first amateur fight, I had learned a whole bunch of new techniques and I told myself, “Okay, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.” The minute the fight started, everything I had learned basically went out the window. The only thing I was going off of was reflex.

I must have had a flash knockout or something—I just started swinging and I clipped the guy and he fell, and I remember looking at him. I was like, "I have to stand up here so I can catch my breath." And my chest was hurting really bad. The ref said, “Okay, if you’re not gonna do anything, stand back and I’ll stand him up.” And I thought, there’s no way I can let him stand up, because I would have no energy at all. I literally fell into his guard and spent another 20 or 25 seconds picking my shots. And even when I was raising my hand to pick my shots I thought, "Oh my god, I’m completely exhausted."

You watch a track runner and you see him running, say, a 400. You see the first 300 that he’s running and you’re like, “Man, he’s gonna break a world record.” But in that last straightaway, when he gets there, you can see his form start changing. That’s when the monkey jumped on his back. And to be quite honest, I felt like 20 monkeys jumped on my back.

Thank god I knocked my guy out in the first round because if it went into the second round, I’d have been done. I trained hard for that fight and my cardio felt good, but the thing was, my adrenaline took over. Within the first 30 seconds of the fight, I was basically done. I had to push myself, and I told myself, “I can’t let the fight go into the second round.”

Even when I won, I had one hand raised and I had my other hand on my knee.

You want to celebrate, but you can’t. I was like, “Let me go sit down somewhere because I’m so exhausted right now.” I was happy that I won, but at the same time, that exhausted feeling is just like, let me just gather my thoughts together. I don’t know what just happened. My body’s not acting correctly. Let me go sit down right quick. And then everything just came to me and it was like, Okay, I won.

An hour after the fight was over—probably an hour and a half, actually—somebody went to shake my hand, and my hand was still shaking. I’d never had an adrenaline rush like that before.

My parents didn’t know. Even when I started fighting pro, they still didn’t know. My parents were born and raised in Haiti. They don’t know too much about the fight game. My mom just knows every time I fight now, I get paid. Even now that I’m fighting in the UFC, they know I’m doing something good, they see me on TV, but at the same time, they don’t know the magnitude of how good it is.

Every fight I go into, a week out before the fight, I get nervous. You get some people that say, “I’m relaxed, I’m not worried about anything. I’ll be fine.” To me, that’s a lie. You get nervous. Walking into the cage, I’m still nervous. But my music comes in and I just kind of go into a zone, my head starts bouncing. Once that’s happening and I’m in the cage, the ref looks at me, looks at my guy, asks us if we’re ready. One thing leads to another, and it’s almost like there’s something hovering over me, and all that nervousness just goes away.

In every sport, practically everyone has a little tradition or a superstitious type deal that they go through. My warm-up clothes that I bring, my packing style, and the way I pack are parts of my routine. I’m somewhat of a neat freak, so I always pack my clothes a certain way. Whenever I get warmed up, I listen to the same exact music: Rick Ross’s Port of Miami.

I claim Immokalee, Florida, to be my hometown, but I was born in Miami and a lot of my family stay in Miami. When Rick Ross comes in with “push it to the limit/the port of Miami…” I get into the zone. It clicks in my head: I know what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to go out there and push myself constantly, and it reminds of where my parents came from. It’s good to fight for yourself, but at the same time, you need a reason to motivate and push yourself more.

Check out these related stories:

Melvin Guillard Explains the Nuances of the Knockout

UFC Welterweight John Howard Remembers the Night that Changed His Life

Jorge Masvidal's Dad Got Lost at Sea While Defecting From Cuba