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From football to fighting, Ovince St. Preux proud of progress

St. Preux calling for another stoppage against Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 47

Image

AP / Matt Strasen

Ovince St. Preux celebrates his submission win over Nikita Krylov during a UFC 171 mixed martial arts light heavyweight bout, Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Dallas.

UFC Fight Night 47

  • Light heavyweight bout: Ryan Bader vs. Ovince St. Preux
  • Lightweight bout: Gray Maynard vs. Ross Pearson
  • Middleweight bout: Tim Boetsch vs. Brad Tavares
  • Welterweight bout: Seth Baczynski vs. Alan Jouban
  • Heavyweight bout: Shawn Jordan vs. Jack May
  • Featherweight bout: Thiago Tavares vs. Robbie Peralta
  • Flyweight bout: Jussier Formiga vs. Zach Makovsky
  • Women's bantamweight bout: Sara McMann vs. Lauren Murphy
  • Middleweight bout: Tom Watson vs. Sam Alvey
  • Bantamweight bout: Nolan Ticman vs. Frankie Sanez
  • Main card airs at 7 on Fox Sports 1 after preliminaries on Fox Sports 2

Ovince St. Preux sensed the exhaustion from the University of Maine football players as he walked into their training facility Thursday morning.

Before the 31-year-old spoke to the Black Bears, a coach explained that they were coming off a week of two-a-day practices and getting a well-deserved break.

“I can remember those days,” St. Preux said. “I can relate to what they’re going through. I’ve been there before.”

Ten years have passed since St. Preux last pushed himself through a college football preseason as a linebacker at the University of Tennessee, but his experience in the sport comes up frequently in his profession. The UFC light heavyweight is often regarded as the fighter with a big-time football background.

St. Preux could rightfully wish to be known as only a fighter by now, as his accomplishments in the octagon far outweigh anything he achieved on the gridiron. Going into his first main event against Ryan Bader (17-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 47 in Bangor, Maine, however, St. Preux (16-5 MMA, 4-0) hopes football always sticks as part of his narrative.

“I definitely don’t get frustrated when people talk about it,” St. Preux said. “It laid a foundation for my mixed martial arts career.”

St. Preux landed at Tennessee playing under coach Phillip Fulmer from 2001-2004 after establishing himself as a highly regarded recruit in high school in South Florida. A couple of attempts to try out an NFL career after college failed with St. Preux deciding to stay in Knoxville, Tenn., and get a job.

A high school wrestler, he went to a mixed martial arts gym to stay in shape and quickly latched onto the sport. It didn’t all go smoothly, though.

Seeking a professional fighting career, St. Preux set his sights on “The Ultimate Fighter.” He thought he could earn a spot on the eighth season in 2008 that was eventually won by Bader.

“I tried out and I didn’t get in,” St. Preux recalled. “If I made it, I probably would have been ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ season winner but I’m not complaining. Things happen for a reason.”

Click to enlarge photo

Ryan Bader, of the United States, puts Rafael Cavalcante, of Brazil, to the mat during a light heavyweight bout at UFC 174 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, June, 14, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jonathan Hayward)

Bader found a faster path to success, but St. Preux has been outspoken on believing he’s the better fighter. On “UFC Tonight” earlier this week, St. Preux declared Bader “overrated.”

Bader has taken offense.

“He’s in for a rude awakening,” Bader responded on Fox Sports 1. “He hasn’t fought people on my level. He hasn’t fought anyone in the top 10. I’m going to welcome him to that level and it’s going to be a bad night for him.”

St. Preux sees the bout going more like his last three fights, where he’s finished every opponent in eight minutes or less. His first UFC fight was a sloppy slugfest with Gian Villante, which St. Preux won via majority decision, but all the others have followed the same outline.

“Usually I get in there, start exchanging punches and guys realize ‘this dude hits hard,’ or, ‘he’s too strong,’ or ‘he moves a little too fast for this weight class,’” St. Preux said. “That’s when you start to put that doubt into their mind and when I know it’s my fight now.”

St. Preux credits his quickness to the footwork he honed over many years in football. He says the strength comes from countless mornings in the weight room.

St. Preux believes vision is another strength of his fighting arsenal because of the way he ingrained “waiting for the play to develop” for years as a linebacker.

He’s a fighter now, but always a football player.

“That’s my background,” St. Preux said. “Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I probably wouldn’t be having the success I’m having today.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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