Coronavirus pandemic gave Ike Villanueva his UFC opportunity
For one reason or another, some fighter’s road to the UFC isn’t as easy as it is for others. Whether lack of exposure, opportunity, or some other issue, sometimes it seems the door is more shut than open. This was apparently the case for light-heavyweight Ike Villanueva.
At 36 years old, Villanueva had essentially aged himself out of a UFC shot, until the novel coronavirus hit and all bets were off. Speaking to MMAWeekly.com during final preparations for his May 13 UFC debut versus Chase Sherman, Villanueva talked about finally getting his shot at the biggest stage in MMA at an age where many fighters might be calling it a career.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Ike, take us back to the start of the year and what things were looking like for your MMA career before the coronavirus lockdown.
Ike Villanueva: Going into the Rashad (Coulter) fight (at Fury FC 40 last December) I was hoping we would get the call (after I won). I was hoping to get on the February (UFC) card in Houston, but it just didn’t play out. It was a hard pill to swallow, because I worked so hard to get on that card for Houston.
I left that night (of the Houston event) and I called every promoter in Houston and told them to find me the next guy on the radar, the next prospect, and line them up – so that was my goal to find the next tough opponent. We had a couple of names ready and then COVID-19 hit.
It was like the devil was in disguise trying to throw different roadblocks on my career. I’m chasing age. I turned 36 in April, so my time is now, I’ve got to go. That was kind of hard to swallow. My wife was telling me to calm down, my time was coming, so I’m thankful for everybody standing behind me, keeping my mind right.
MMAWeekly.com: What was it like to get the call to face Sherman at UFC Fight Night on May 13 in Jacksonville, Florida?
Ike Villanueva: My management, Jason House at Iridium Sports Agency, said they couldn’t promise me anything, but just stay ready somehow someway. That was hard because nothing was open, it was hard, but we got through it and found ways to get work in, and thankfully enough we got the phone call.
I was getting off work at 4:30PM and got a video call from Jason, and Jason never video calls me, so I picked up and the first thing he said was, “We did it. UFC May 13, we’re in the door.” He didn’t have to ask me about a fight, I’m ready to fight, and it happened and it was a dream come true.
I had just left work, so I turned around, hauled ass straight back to work, ran straight to my boss and told him we did it. The guys at work support me 100%, so it was tears of joy when it happened. It was an amazing feeling.
MMAWeekly.com: How did your training change once you got word you’d have a fight?
Ike Villanueva: I call my head coach up, put a game plan together, and we went right to work and have been non-stop working since. There’s no weight cut (since this fight is at heavyweight), so that’s awesome, I’m ready to go.
Right now we’re doing two training sessions a day, do a cardio at night, and now we’re just making that push. There’s only so much you can put in on 10 days’ notice, but right now we’re just sharpening our tools, getting ready.
MMAWeekly.com: What are your thoughts on facing Sherman, and what is a key for you to going out and picking up the win?
Ike Villanueva: Pressure kills from my end. You’ve got to pressure him. Everybody is in the UFC for a reason; it took hard work to get here; so I respect Chase. He’s a veteran. He’s tough as hell. I’ve got to bring my A-game, but I’m excited to show the world who “The Hurricane” is. On May 13 it’s my time to shine, and I think the fans will love it. It took a long time to get here, so I’m looking to put a good fight on May 13.
MMAWeekly.com: As far as fighting during the pandemic goes, what are your thoughts on the preparations the UFC is making to hold an event at this time?
Ike Villanueva: They sent out an email, like a four-page email, with everything and how they’ve got it scheduled out. I felt better knowing that they’ve got everything under control. There’s a lot of backlash about trying to make these fights happen, but seeing what they’re going to do, it’s pretty awesome. They’re doing a great job and big ups to the UFC and Dana White for making this happen.
MMAWeekly.com: With the future of MMA still a bit of a mystery, can you make plans for the remainder of your 2020 or do you just have to take it one fight at a time?
Ike Villanueva: Right now this is a heavyweight thing, but I’m a light-heavyweight, so that’s the next fight. I want to stay active. I’m the guy chasing the time. I want to fight and make things happen.
Whatever (UFC Matchmaker) Mick Maynard has got for me, I’m open to do it. If I can get in another fight before the year ends, maybe two, it all depends on my health and how things go. I’m excited for this fight and want to stay active after this fight.