After Ovince St. Preux started his career with a 3-4 record, the Haitian- American went on a freakish run, going 6-0 in 2010 and transforming from meandering journeyman to full-blown contender who will face former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Gegard Mousasi on December 17. The difference between the 2009 version of OSP and the bigger, badder, stronger fighter that you see today? A revamped training regiment and a simple promise to himself that has yet to be broken.
“I just told myself that I wasn’t going to lose again,” says the former University of Tennessee linebacker. “I was never the type to quit.” Eight consecutive wins later, St. Preux has made good on his promise and doesn’t plan on failing again anytime soon.
It takes a man with a lot of resolve to begin his career with two straight losses and not throw in the towel. But St. Preux is cut from a different cloth. It all started when St. Preux was looking for ways to keep his fitness up while playing college football. When a fraternity brother suggested that “ St. Preux attend kickboxing class to stay in shape, the 6’3” fighter obliged but never thought he would be smitten by the world of MMA.
“I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” St. Preux says, while mentioning that terms like whizzer, triangle, and armbar were as foreign to him as speaking Portuguese. “I just knew it got me tired and I liked it.” The more St. Preux attended class, the more he became infatuated with the intricacies of the sport. He never really considered fighting as a career but was nudged by his coach Eric Turner to try his hand at a real fight. Ever the competitor, St. Preux hesitantly gave it a shot, despite still being green when it came to his knowledge of the sport. He lost his first pro fight via decision to Rodney Wallace at the Vengeance Fighting Championship I in 2008 and then dropped a decision to Ray Lizama later that year. But Turner wouldn’t let the ex-football player give up because he knew the unique potential that his fighter possessed. Once St. Preux got past the part where he was hitting opponents in the face instead of on the field, everything was golden.
“When I first started, I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to get hit,” he says. “My coach told me to leave that idea alone because I was definitely going to get hit. He said, ‘Just make sure you hit somebody back.”’ And hit somebody back is exactly what St. Preux did. After managing to get his record to 3-4, St. Preux reeled off a string of four straight stoppages, highlighted by an eight-second devastation of former UFC fighter Jason Day. But what made the string of victories all the more impressive was the fact that St. Preux fought at a frantic pace that put him in the cage in February, April, May, July, November, and December. The average fighter would be happy to get three fights in a year—St. Preux got six.
“That’s not the pace that I wanted to particularly fight, but the opportunities continued to present themselves, and I kept taking them,” he says. It also helped that he believed in his coach Eric Turner when he constantly reassured St. Preux that he was “gonna destroy them.” It’s that synergy that has resulted in a certain self-assurance that has allowed St. Preux to continuously come out on top against recent opposition. It is also why the light heavyweight is ready for a step up in competition and fearlessly called out the highly decorated Mousasi after obliterating Joe Cason in just over a minute at a Challengers show in July. “If Strikeforce wants me to fight an overgrown gorilla, I’ll ask Turner, ‘What am I gonna do?’ If he says, ‘Don’t worry, you’re gonna kill him,’ I’ll say, ‘Alright coach.’”
Some people might think OSP is biting off more than he can chew by asking for a bout against a fighter who currently holds the Dream Light Heavyweight Title and is the first person to win Dream championships in two different weight classes. But being so far in the zone, St. Preux never had the opportunity to pick his head up and look around after barreling through his opponents. It wouldn’t matter though, because St. Preux’s only job is to fight, not become enamored with his surroundings.
“To be honest, if you come up to me right now and ask me if I know who certain fighters are, I wouldn’t know,” St. Preux says when asked how much he’s familiarized himself with his competition. “I’m still learning the game of mixed martial arts and the people who are in it. I do it because I love it. It pushes me to get better. I just love the thrill of fighting.”
He admits that he wasn’t too aware of how significant his accomplishments were in the cage because of his lack of knowledge when it came to the history of the sport. After all, here was a guy who pulled off a calf slicer in his fourth professional fight against Ombey Mobley. The submission ended up being the runner-up for Inside MMA’s “Submission of the Year.” St. Preux treated it like it was another day at the office. He isn’t caught up in the semantics of fighting, he just enjoys winning. “I thought the calf slicer was a regular, everyday move in MMA,” he says. “To me, that move was as typical as an armbar or a triangle choke.”
The fact that he’s naïve to all of this is what makes his ascent endearing to fight fans, even though most diehard MMA fans are in shock that a guy that good can be so green when it comes to knowledge of the game. That’s okay because St. Preux’s friends and family are still getting acclimated to the sport as well. St. Preux’s Haitian mother and father have yet to warm to the idea that their son gets punched in the face for a living.
“My mom still can’t grasp the concept of me fighting. She continues to ask me, ‘Why are you doing this?’ She still doesn’t understand it and refuses to talk about it,” he says. Even his Tennessee teammates and fraternity brothers couldn’t wrap their head around the idea that St. Preux was in the hurt business. But after a wicked string of victories, everyone has stopped calling him crazy. They all believe in him, and he’s not one to let anybody down.
“I have a nation behind me, my frat, my friends, and my family—nobody can stop me.”