Gian Villante needed just 10 seconds – just 10 seconds to shake off an accidental eye poke and get back into his fight at Saturday’s UFC 159 event.
Instead, Villante (10-4 MMA, 0-1 UFC) honestly answered that he couldn’t see at that exact moment, and his light-heavyweight bout with fellow Strikeforce import Ovince St. Preux (13-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) was instantly waved off.
The result, which aired on the FX-televised preliminary card, prompted a chorus of boos from the crowd at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Throughout the first round, St. Preux often swung wildly, and Villante sensed some of the open-hand strikes could be dangerous. But he said he couldn’t imagine referee Kevin Mulhall would so quickly wave off the fight after he got poked just 33 seconds into the second round.
“He’s just looking at me and not saying a word,” Villante told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “Ovince knows he poked me, I know he poked me, but the ref, I guess, was watching the girl in the third row. I don’t know. I couldn’t see for a second. I just blinked my eye to try to get some fluid back in there. I would have been fine 30 seconds later. I thought I had five minutes. All I needed was 10 seconds. But they ended it.”
While Mulhall was slow to even acknowledge Villante needed a timeout, he quickly stopped the bout after asking the fighter if he could see. Villante answered honestly and said he couldn’t, which he figured would give him some recovery time. But Mulhall went with a strict interpretation of the rules, and unlike groin shots, eye pokes don’t allow for up to five minutes to recover.
“He just ended the fight right there,” he said. “I don’t know what was I supposed to say. And if I did know what to say, I’m in the middle of a fight. I’m not going to think, ‘What is the exact rule on what to say when you get poked in the eye?’ I’m going to say exactly how I feel. I can’t see for this second, but give me a second, and I’ll be all right.”
Despite the unfortunate ending, Villante, who saw a three-fight win streak snapped, said he holds no ill will toward St. Preux.
“It’s not like he did it intentionally,” Villante said. “I don’t think anything like that. I guess I poked him (in the eye) the round before, and the ref still was just looking at him. I’m not just going to hit him while the ref is looking at him. It’s just so weird.
“He did the same thing to me. When he poked me, he know he poked me, and he stopped me. And the ref just looked at us. I don’t know what we’re supposed to say.”
After the fight, Villante said he felt more disappointment than anger or resentment. He now knows that the Unified Rules of MMA essentially prompted the referee to handle the situation like he did.
“I don’t know how to feel really,” he said. “I guess you feel like you got screwed, but I don’t know exactly by who. It’s weird. It’s a weird feeling.”
And as for a rematch, Villante said he’s certainly open to it. He doesn’t feel any hostility toward St. Preux, but he also doesn’t want a loss to go on his resume that’s unavenged.
“If that’s going to count as a loss, hell yeah I want one,” he said. “If that’s a loss, I a million percent want one. But I don’t see how it’s a loss.”
For complete coverage of UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.