Gian Villante wanted to win his last match for all the reasons you would expect: the satisfaction of the victory, a great end to a long career and the extra paycheck.
But there was another reason. He wanted to give a shoutout to his football players, the 8th graders at Salk Middle School and the college players at MacArthur High School in Levittown.
The first part did not happen, however, when Villante lost with TKO to Chris Barnett at UFC 268 Saturday night in Madison Square Garden. The second part, however, he made sure that it happened.
“Say hello to all my Seahawks, all my generals, all those present, all the guys who look at home, I love you all,” Villante told the Newsday backstage after the match. “Thank you so much for all the support and reintroducing me to something I did not realize how much I missed. I love it. Thank you for helping me find the next path. Coaching these guys made it as clear as that’s probably the next thing I want to do. ”
Villante retired from MMA Saturday night and will pursue teaching and coaching. He finishes the remaining few points for his degree from Hofstra in June. He started training last season.
But on Saturday night it was one last match. One last round.
“It was a fun ride,” said the Levittown-raised Villante. “I enjoyed it, whatever the outcome.”
Barnett (22-7) landed a spinning wheel kick that sent Villante on the mat in the second round. He then moved in and made his way to a TKO when referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the heavyweight match at the 2:23 mark. Villante (17-14) got to his feet just after the stop and was in good spirits when his career ended.
“You don’t see too many 265-pound guys throwing spinning kicks. Thanks to him,” Villante said. Cool way to go out, on MSG. No regrets. ”
Barnett was the first fighter in the early launches to be interviewed inside the octagon by Joe Rogan. Barnett spent much of that time praising Villante and building him after losing his retirement battle in front of a home crowd.
“My greatest respect is to take my moment and give it to someone else,” Barnett said at his post-match press conference.
“Really classy,” Villante told Barnett as they crossed paths backstage.
“It made a huge difference, even for me,” said Chris Weidman, Villante’s longtime friend and cornerback.
The two have known each other since they fought in high school almost two decades ago. They came up together in wrestling and again later in mixed martial arts.
“Just thinking about our whole career, I started to get emotional,” Weidman said of the locker room before the game. “I cried twice.”
Villante said he did not get too emotional before the match.
“Chris was trying to get me emotional all week,” said Villante, who was well on his way backstage after the fight as he said goodbye to UFC staff, officials and the friendly faces built in 10 years of promotion.