The light heavyweight division is arguably the most exciting and competitive division in the UFC right now. The light heavyweights of yesteryear, like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Lyoto Machida, are a major part of the reason that the UFC is still around today. This year we have seen that Jon Jones does have vulnerabilities and is not, in fact, indestructible. The top-10 rankings of the 205-pounders is a veritable who’s who of explosive, hard-hitting, fast-paced cardio machines. Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier, Rashad Evans (who is arguably one of the top five light heavyweights ever), Glover Teixeira and Anthony Johnson round out the top five contenders. It’s a thrilling time to be an up-and-coming light heavyweight.

Ovince Saint Preux just defeated Ryan Jimmo on June 14 on the UFC 174 main card to break into the top-10 list of UFC light heavyweights and improve his record to 16-5. He is also on a five-fight winning streak, all in the UFC or Strikeforce, and his only loss in four years is to Gegard Mousasi by way of a decision.

St. Preux (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

St. Preux (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

When St. Preux wins, he wins in decisive fashion. He has broken two opponents’ arms with vicious kicks. Jimmo was just his latest victim. St. Preux has seven KO/TKO victories and has won via decision four times in his career. He can choke, kick and hit, and the man is fast, explosive and technical.

“Playing football really helped me develop as an athlete. I am explosive and powerful. We did a lot of OIympic lifting and I have strong hips. Being in football definitely plays a part in my success,” explained St. Preux in an interview with The MMA Corner. “I may not have the wrestling pedigree that [Ryan] Bader has, but I wrestled in high school and did pretty good then. But football also taught me to listen to my coaches. It taught me discipline and patience, and perhaps most importantly, it taught me to execute my game plan.”

“In team sports, the strategy will change every week depending on the opponent and who is healthy. And the strategy will vary even in different situations, so to execute your job on demand is a must. Patience with plays, letting them unfold, looking for the errors, that is how football makes me a better fighter.”

St. Preux wrestled and played football in high school at Immokalee in the Miami area, then moved on to play for NCAA Division I stars, the University of Tennessee Volunteers. He graduated from college in only three years with a degree in sociology, and after two unsuccessful attempts to turn pro, he gave up the sport. But he wanted to stay in shape. One of his frat brothers invited him to the gym, to what he thought was a kickboxing class.

“I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t want to hit anybody and I definitely didn’t want to get hit,” laughed St. Preux. “But my coaches kept telling me that I was picking it up fast and I should try it. But I told them, ‘No, that’s not my cup of tea.’ Eventually, I agreed. After that first amateur fight, my hands were shaking. It was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life.”

St. Preux decided to try it again and again. After his third fight, he asked his coach, Eric Turner of Knoxville Martial Arts Academy, just how far he thought St. Preux could go.

“‘With your physical attributes, with your learning abilities, and your fight and MMA IQ, you could be a UFC fighter and maybe even a champ’ is what he told me,” recounted St. Preux. “And that is what I work for every day—to be the light heavyweight champion of the UFC.”

Under the training of Turner and Nate Hoffmeister, St. Preux has been able to develop into an incredibly well-rounded fighter with a gas tank that seems to be set to infinite. Sometimes St. Preux goes to Atlanta or even Temecula, Calif., to spar against other big guys. But with a fairly quick turnaround of only six weeks since his last fight, he and his coaches decided to bring in some big training partners. Guys like Virgil Zwicker and Rodney Wallace have helped give St. Preux the test he needs in the gym as he prepares for his headlining clash with Bader at UFC Fight Night 47.

“While I can’t go into the details of the game plan, I can tell you that we are preparing for war,” St. Preux revealed. “I mean, this guy has faced Tito, Jones, Teixeira, Machida—he has fought the who’s who of light heavyweights. He is no pushover. He is tough. This will be my first time as a main event, and he has done this before. I find I do better in the spotlight—it excites me.

“My style is the new style. I didn’t have any martial arts base. Well, I had high school wrestling, but I feel that that is actually something that I have turned into a strength. I am strong in all aspects of mixed martial arts, emphasis on the mixed. If my opponent has an advantage in the stand-up, I can use my ground game to neutralize that.

St. Preux (R) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

St. Preux (R) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“People will tend to gravitate to what they are good at—a kickboxer is going to want to do more kickboxing drills—but it’s my mindset to say, ‘Okay, my kickboxing is good. What else can I work on?’ And again, lots of people will break down MMA to its base arts and train just BJJ, or just Muay Thai, or just wrestling. But we train MMA, all the aspects together. I am using my striking to set up my takedowns, or my wrestling to set up for my submissions.”

Not only does St. Preux focus on the physical side, but, ever the student, he really likes to learn the reasons behind his coaches words.

“I talk to my trainers to find out why I am doing this or that,” St. Preux explained. “A lot of fighters are content to just do something because it works, but I like to find out why it works and how it works. This allows me to understand how to adapt to certain situations. It allows me to be able to freestyle in my fights and be unpredictable. I am always looking for different ways to get the win.”

The old-school fighters gave us some of the best memories and rivalries, but a lot of them were fairly one-dimensional. Couture had power and wrestling. Liddell had power and a granite chin, combined with one of the best takedown defenses in history. Many times, their fights were the classic grappler vs. striker “styles make fights” kind of match-ups. Today’s stars, however, would dominate the old stars. St. Preux intends to demonstrate that in his next fight on Aug. 16 on Fox Sports 1. If you want to see history in the making, you’d better tune in.

Ovince would like to thank Headrush and KO Reps, coach Eric Turner and the team at KMAA, Nate Hoffmeister for the Strength & Conditioning, UT, his hometown of Immokalee, his frat brothers at Omega Psi Phi, and Team Haiti. He would also like to thank his fans. Follow St. Preux on Twitter: @003_OSP

About The Author

Staff Writer

Amber currently resides in Tampa, Fla., a hotbed of MMA. She was introduced to the sport Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and quickly became addicted. Amber loves the fact that the biggest and strongest don’t always win, the respect the competitors show and that women are finally getting their shot. She also writes a blog for Fight It Out gear. When not watching MMA, Amber can be found at the beach playing volleyball, in the gym learning from Tampa’s only female BJJ Black Belt, cheering on her eight-year-old daughter in tae kwon do, or at her day job. She has a girlfriend, daughter, too many dogs and a cat who lives in the attic. Communication highly encouraged at amber at fightitout dot com.