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Ovince St. Preux will make his first foray into the heavyweight division at UFC Fight Night 171, where he will square off against Ben Rothwell in Wednesday’s co-headliner.
It wasn’t necessarily a planned move. The coronavirus pandemic cost the former University of Tennessee football player two light heavyweight opponents — Shamil Gamzatov and Misha Cirkunov — for a now-canceled April 25 event, so jumping up a weight class turned out to be the best available option.
And really, there are perks that come with competing in the big boys’ division.
“First thing, I don’t have to cut weight, so that’s good,” St. Preux said during the UFC’s virtual media day on Monday. “I found out about the fight two and half weeks ago. We made a few slight changes here and there. We have a solid game plan. As long as I stick to it, I’ll be fine.
“I’m happy. I don’t have to worry about nothing,” he continued. “The stress is off of me during training camp. I’m essentially living my best life.”
Through 20 light heavyweight bouts in UFC competition, OSP has emerged as a reliable gatekeeper in the division. He’s squared off with the likes of Jon Jones, Ryan Bader, Glover Teixeira, Mauricio Rua, Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes over the course of his career — so there’s virtually nothing he hasn’t seen.
The tentative plan is to return to the weight class he’s called home in the Octagon since 2013, but if more interesting opportunities present themselves at heavyweight after his clash with Rothwell, St. Preux is willing to listen.
“If I see a fight that presents itself at heavyweight, I will take it,” he said. “Why not? I’m naturally a 205 pounder. As long as I stick to my diet and do everything well, usually I have an easy cut and usually I have a great fight.”
However, St. Preux doesn’t consider a long-term move to be viable. He’d rather stick around at 205 pounds, where he is confident that he can compete with the best the division has to offer.
“With me, right now you’d probably call me a tweener between the light heavyweight division and heavyweight division,” he said. “Some of the guys within the heavyweight division, you look at them and go, ‘OK I can get them.’ After that you get into that margin of the Top 5, you start scratching your head and are like, ’It’ll be a good fight but it’ll be more of a concerning fight.’ As long as I come in healthy and with a good weight cut, I know I can beat pretty much everybody in the 205 division.”
St. Preux doesn’t subscribe to the notion that light heavyweights can easily excel simply by jumping up a weight class. His opponent recently added fuel to that fire by claiming that 205-pound fighters often consider moving up because “they think the heavyweights suck.”
“It’s not that the heavyweight division is weak. It’s not weak by any means. You look at a guy like Francis Ngannou, if he touches you he’s gonna bury you,” St. Preux said. “It’s not weak at all because you don’t know what can happen. One punch can change the effect of a whole fight. I don’t consider that to be a weak division.”
St. Preux, who expects to weigh between 236 and 237 pounds against Rothwell come fight night, admits that he should have one at least one thing working in his favor against larger opposition — and another attribute that might prove to be surprising.
“Would I have an advantage in the heavyweight division? I think so, yeah. Speed,” he said. “I think a lot of heavyweights won’t realize even though I’m going up, you might be a little stronger than me but you’re not gonna be much stronger than me. I’ve been in a college weight room pretty much all my life. I still keep that work ethic. If you lock up with me, you’re gonna be like, ‘OK, I don’t think he’s your typical 205 pounder.’”
That said, St. Preux knows he needs to avoid certain positions against Rothwell, who checked in at 265.2 pounds for his most recent Octagon appearance. That means he won’t be hunting for his trademark “Von Preux” shoulder choke unless it’s an ideal situation.
“I have no business being under Ben,” he said. “Me welcoming my submissions is gonna be anything that I can be in top position, whether it’s side mount, half guard or guard. But me under him is a no-no for me.”
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