“I just can’t wait. I’ve been training so hard for this. I’m here in the US for six months without seeing my son in Brazil. To be honest with you, I’m going to beat this guy so bad that I’m going to knock his head out of the building. I can’t wait to get in the cage. I’ve got my vacation planned, got my ticket planned to get to Brazil and see my son. That’s what I want to do.”
To say Danillo Villefort is ready to his Strikeforce debut against Nathan James would be a gross understatement; the talented middleweight is chomping at the bit to return to the cage. He was supposed to face Antwain Britt back in June, but an injury forced him to withdraw, adding two months to his time away from competition.
“What happened was I was training with `Bigfoot’ (Antonio Silva) — we were doing some Thai clinch — and I think he got a little excited,” laughed Villefort, speaking with Heavy MMA earlier in the month. “He pulled my head too hard and I ripped one muscle in my back, and I’ve got three different contusions on my cervical (vertebrae). I’ve been doing a lot of physical therapy every day in the morning and the evening so I can get this thing fixed. I feel good. The training has been really hard and good, and I’m ready to go.”
Casual fans who look at Villefort’s record will see a one-and-done with the UFC and probably move on, ignoring the nine wins that surround his loss to Jesse Lennox at UFC 101 two years ago. An inadvertent headbutt caused the fight-ending cut that spelled the end of Villefort’s brief tenure on the UFC roster, and while he admits that hearing the news of his release was hard, the 13-3 potential Strikeforce standout looks at the bout as a learning experience.
“Actually, who told me what happened was Bigfoot. We were both watching training, and he told me, `Hey bro, I feel bad. I’m sorry,’ and I asked him what happened,” Villefort said before playing both sides of the conversation:
“You don’t know?”
“Don’t know what?”
“$*@% bud, I thought you knew.”
“I think they released you from the show.”
“So I called my manager and he told me what happened, and it was pretty bad,” continued Villefort. “I felt real bad. I could win that fight, but I was playing too much. I fought really stupid. I think it was good though, ecause I was still young and I learned a lot with that loss. I think I learned more than if I had won that fight. It was good. At the end of the day, you’ve got to learn with the losses too.”
While the letters “UFC” are what stands out on his resume, Villefort has put together a four-pack of solid performances since that loss, including back-to-back wins over veterans Joey Villasenor and Matt Horwich that have fueled his hunger to get back in the cage on Friday.
“I fought some pretty tough guys and that gives me a lot of confidence. There are some guys that I fought — like that Brazilian kid, Cassiano Tytschyo — who is pretty tough and was my first knockout ever. That was good for me. I feel really confident for this fight. I had an amazing camp, I have an amazing training partners and coaches, and I just can’t wait to get in that cage and get the job done.”
It was this time last year that news broke that Villefort had left American Top Team along with Jorge Santiago, Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante, and his younger brother Yuri, a talented welterweight prospect currently sidelined following knee surgery. The group relocated to Boca Raton, Florida, setting up shop at Imperial Athletics. Rashad Evans joined them after his break from Greg Jackson’s team in Albuquerque, bringing coach Mike Van Arsdale with him.
Several more fighters have made the trip since including Michael and Anthony Johnson, and potential kickboxing crossover Tyrone Spong. The team has been christened “The Blackzilians,” and Villefort says that being surrounded by his new family has made a big difference as he prepares for his Strikeforce debut tomorrow night.
“When you go to the gym and you feel happy to be there, that gives you more motivation to be there because training so hard — people don’t understand how hard is a fighter’s life. We always get hurt, we’ve got to lose weight, gotta train hard, you get tired and you have problems like everybody else; you’ve still got bills to pay. When you’ve have a good amount of people that you love to be around and good energy, that helps a lot. It makes it easier to spend a lot of time in the gym.”
Fighting is more than a career for Villefort; it’s a familial way of life. His father — Francisco “Master Indio” Silva — is a Vale Tudo icon in Brazilian, and his godfather is legendary heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Villefort has been raised in the sport, and is humbled and grateful for all the advice and guidance his father and godfather have passed along over the years.
“He [taught] us a lot, not just about fights and jiu-jitsu, stuff like that, which I really like and I’m really grateful for,” Villefort said of his father. “He really [taught] us how to be a good man in life — be responsible and respectful to everybody, be a man when you have to be, be tough when you have to be, and be a nice guy when you have to be. My dad is my hero and I’m just glad to be his son; I’m so proud of him.
“[Nogueira]taught me a lot of jiu-jitsu, bro; a lot,” Villefort continued with a laugh. “He really took care of me at the beginning of my career. He arranged my first, second and third fight from his own money, from his own pocket. I have no words to describe how grateful I am for him.
“He brought me to Japan with him; I think I flew to Japan for Pride like six times, to learn how things are on the big stage. He always worried about teaching me, showing me how things are going so that when my time comes, I don’t get too excited.”
It’s those experiences of traveling with the former Pride heavyweight champion and the lessons he imparted that Villefort says have him focused only on the task at hand tomorrow night.
“To be honest with you, I don’t see any difference between the small show and the big show. The only difference is the pressure; the fans, the media and stuff like that. Beside that, it’s just you and the other guy — two guys that’s ready to go.
“I really love to be in the cage,” added Villefort. “I really love to see the other guy right there, across the cage and say, `Let’s get this thing going. Let’s see who’s going to be the more well-prepared and who’s more hungry to do this thing.’ I love it.”