Moments after scoring the biggest win of his MMA career on Saturday night, Ovince St. Preux stood in the cage addressing an arena full of empty seats.
St. Preux had just knocked out MMA royalty, finishing Mauricio “Shogun” Rua via TKO just 34 seconds into the main event of UFC Fight Night 56. Replays showed the counter left hook he used to drop the former champion was a thing of beauty and that the stoppage was purely justified after a barrage of punches on the ground.
But time and place are everything—and OSP had already conceded this fight was an away game for him.
It was creeping up on 4 a.m. local time in Uberlandia, Brazil, and those who’d turned out and stayed up through four judges’ decisions in five main-card bouts did so in hopes of seeing some old-school Rua heroics. Perhaps the only thing more astonishing than St. Preux’s swift victory was how quickly the joint cleared out when fans didn’t get what they wanted.
If the American noticed the mass exodus, though, he didn’t let on.
“This fight meant a lot to me,” St. Preux told UFC play-by-play announcer Jon Anik during his post-fight interview. “Shogun is a legend, I have a lot of respect for him. I’m still going to be a big Shogun fan, but it’s one of those things where in order to become a legend, you have to beat a legend.”
While legendary status is still far beyond St. Preux’s 80-inch reach, this victory effectively hit the reset button on his status in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. It boosted him to 5-1 in the Octagon (17-6 overall) and gave him some breathing room after a disappointing decision loss to Ryan Bader in August.
But it also had a strange anticlimactic feel. Referee Mario Yamasaki’s decision to step in and stop the action was met by shocked silence from the audience, who seemingly all reacted by immediately turning around and sprinting for the exits. It was an odd scene and might well go down as one of the quietest stoppages in UFC history.
Those watching at home were just as dumbfounded, not because nobody expected St. Preux to win—he came in as a slight underdog but shaped up as a tough stylistic matchup for the diminutive Shogun—but because the rest of the night had been such a drag.
It suddenly felt as though the previous three-and-a-half hours had been a lengthy instrumental introduction to a very short, very strange song—or like we’d all made a long, boring hike together to the top of a mountain, only to find a cliff and a sort of underwhelming view.
It’s equally difficult to root out exactly what this means to OSP. It’s certainly the biggest victory of his life. A glance at his career resume is now a bit jarring, seeing his fairly pedestrian previous victories—most recently over Ryan Jimmo, Nikita Krylov and Cody Donovan—topped with a first-round KO of the once-great Rua.
He entered this bout ranked No. 10 in the UFC’s 205-pound division and will certainly improve on that when the new media votes are tallied next week. But not even St. Preux himself could make good sense of it all. When Anik asked him if there was anyone he’d like to fight next he first looked to his coach for help before somewhat unconvincingly mentioning a couple of downright out-of-the-blue names: Fabio Maldonado and Anthony Perosh.
Not top-ranked contender Alexander Gustafsson or No. 3 Anthony Johnson. Not No. 7 Dan Henderson or fourth-ranked Rashad Evans or No. 5 Phil Davis. All those guys need fights right now, but instead St. Preux could barely half call out No. 14 Maldonado and the unranked Perosh.
So that put an even weirder spin on things.
The other factor that makes this a strange win for OSP is Rua himself. In the grand scheme of things, the positive ramifications for St. Preux will undoubtedly be overshadowed by the negative ones for Shogun. The 32-year-old veteran had already been facing near constant calls to retire, which will only be intensified by this loss.
All that will come later, though. Clearly, this night belonged to the visitor.
St. Preux took this fight on less than two weeks’ notice, stepping in for the injured Jimi Manuwa and rolled it into exactly the sort of catapulting victory that makes those opportunities attractive for UFC up-and-comers. He's a likable guy and this high-profile win not only swept away memories of the Bader loss but actually made it appear possible that, at 31 years old, OSP might still cash in on his tremendous potential.
Here’s hoping matchmakers don’t take his advice. He deserves another Top 10 opponent next, even if his handiwork sent Uberlandia home with tears in their early-morning beers.