Ovince Saint Preux may very well be the best-kept secret in the UFC's light heavyweight division.
The former University of Tennessee football standout turned mixed martial artist has been quietly climbing his way up the competitive ranks of the 205-pound weight class. While OSP put himself on the map by winning six out of his seven showings under the now-defunct Strikeforce banner, the four consecutive victories the 31-year-old has notched inside the Octagon have him knocking on the door to much bigger things.
Throughout his time on the sport's biggest stage, Saint Preux has put his diverse skill set on display. The Knoxville representative has shown the ability to end fights abruptly with his ever-improving stand-up game, and his submission skills have been a nightmare for the opposition when the action hits the canvas. He's won 13 of his last 14 outings, and his five most recent victories all ended with a finish.
That caliber of consistency and success has Saint Preux on the verge of breaking through to the next level of the light heavyweight division, and he'll have the opportunity to cement his place among the elite at 205 pounds when he faces Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 47 on Aug. 16. Bader has been a staple in the divisional fold since winning the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter, and a victory over the Power MMA leader would make it difficult to argue Saint Preux's place on the divisional hierarchy.
It's the biggest fight of his career, in a headlining slot against a top-ranked opponent, and Saint Preux has every intention of rising to the challenge.
"I'm excited for this fight," Saint Preux told Bleacher Report. "I'm not going to lie...I didn't expect this, but the best things in life are the things you don't expect.
"I think this is a great matchup. He has power in his hands, and I do too. I also have power in my feet, and I know the things he's eventually going to go for. With me, you don't know what I'm going to go for or when I'm going to go for them. If I want to go for the takedown, I think I can take him down if I want to. But at the same time, I think he's going to have a hard time taking me down."
The matchup between Saint Preux and Bader has heavy implications as to which of the two men will remain in the competitive mix in the light heavyweight fold, but it is also an interesting stylistic clash as well. Both fighters are athletes who transitioned from a different sport to become successful mixed martial artists, and their respective skill sets have been on a continuous trajectory of improvement.
Whereas Saint Preux left the gridiron to throw leather inside the cage, the Phoenix-based Bader used his wrestling foundation as a base to develop additional skills. Both fighters have established dangerous power in their striking games, and Saint Preux believes their upcoming matchup could be determined by how things play out on the feet.
That said, if his time in the UFC has proved anything, it's that Saint Preux is not the easiest fighter to predict when the cage door closes.
The Tennessee native is dangerous wherever the fight goes and prides himself on keeping his opponents guessing throughout. Yet while Saint Preux may be a difficult riddle to solve from his opponent's point of view, he will come into his fight against Bader with a game plan to follow. And if he's able to stick to the plan, the victory he's visualized in his mind will become a reality.
"I want to be a surprise in there," Saint Preux said. "That's what I'm shooting for. I want to be the fighter where people think I'm going to come out and do one thing, but then I surprise everyone by doing something else. My goal is to never be the same fighter I was the last time out. When I fight Ryan [Bader], I'm not going to be the same person that stepped in there and fought [Ryan] Jimmo.
"I most definitely have the reach advantage over him, and that's one of the things I'm going to try to capitalize on. His boxing has come a long way, but my boxing has come a really long way, too. I'm going to come in there with a good game plan and stick to it. If this fight ends up being a stand-up battle, I think it's going to come down to whoever lands the cleanest punch first.
"It feels great to be where I'm at right now in my career, and I'm out to accomplish the goals I've set," he added. "I've given up a lot to get here to where I'm at in my mixed martial arts career. I've always told myself if I do the things I need to do, I am going to accomplish my goals. It's almost like a Law of Attraction type of deal. In my mind, I've won the fight already. I know what I need to do, and if I follow the game plan, I'm going to come out with the victory.
"I've already won the fight in my mind, and I need to go out and execute on Saturday night to make it happen."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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