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For Gian Villante, third time's the 'amazing, amazing' charm when fighting at home

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

By last Monday morning, UFC light heavyweight Gian Villante had two black eyes. So unsightly were they that he felt the need to cover them by wearing glasses to help cover them up.

"I've never had a black eye before, to tell you the truth, from all my fights before," Villante told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "I've had scratches here and there. Two of them and I'm so embarrassed. I hate it."

Of course, Villante might be embarrassed, but he's still on cloud nine. Not only had Villante just notched a win over Corey Anderson at UFC on FOX 15 the previous Saturday, but in so doing, earned Fight of the Night honors. It was arguably the best performance of Villante's career and one that showcased a well-rounded striking ability.

"I was willing to get punched to land those kicks. Probably landed a little bit too much," he confessed. "He was good. He was a tough guy. At the point where it got later in the fight, I was willing to get punched because I thought it was worth it. I thought he might get stopped because of the leg kicks because I was landing them so frequently in a pretty good spot."

For the Serra-Longo fighter, though, it's more than just the nice win and extra cash. It was about redemption.

Villante had fought twice previously in front of his friends and family, but it had gone poorly. Against both Chad Griggs in Strikeforce in 2011 as well as Ovince St. Preux at UFC 159 in April of 2013. Villante lost both fights and, as he puts it, looked boring in one of them, which is just as bad.

"The last time I was in that ring in that same place, couldn't have went any worse getting poked in the eye and losing a fight. I thought of that going into the right," he said. "I thought of fighting in front of all my friends, family, so close to home. It's a little bit of pressure with that many people there. I'm fighting a guy I thought I was better than and he showed me he was a lot tougher than I gave him credit for. Not that I didn't think he was tough.

"It was just a tough fight. So many things went into it. So people people there rooting for me and having good people on my time, great coaches they push you through things like that. It's just an amazing, amazing feeling."

Villante estimates that, along with the rest of his teammates who fought at UFC on FOX 15, they had 500 supporters in attendance, from the assistant principal he had in middle school to wrestling coaches to members of his Italian family.

That all calls into question what's better for fighting: at home with all the pressure or oversees, like Villante's previous bout in Auckland, New Zealand?

"Both have their pluses," he notes. "New Zealand, way less pressure. You just go out there and fight. When you win it's not as great because you don't get to go celebrate and embrace everyone after.

"Before I the fight, I'd say I'd rather fight in New Zealand, but after the fight, I'd say I'd rather fight in Newark or New York or close to home. It was great to see everyone after, have fun and be able to enjoy my victory with them. They enjoyed it just as much as I did."

And that, Villante claims, is what made it all worth it. It took three tries to get there, but he did it and after it was over, the feeling and moment was beyond compare.

"This feeling out there was just amazing," Villante noted. "That's why when you're fighting at home, the last time I've done it was those two times. It kinda was a little bit nerve wracking, but getting in there and getting it done, it was all worth it."