On April 23 at UFC 197, Ovince Saint Preux, or "OSP" as he's known, is set to battle it out in arguably the biggest fight of his career. He'll be facing former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in an interim belt battle, after Jones's original opponent Daniel Cormier had to withdraw from the fight due to a leg injury.
While he isn't exactly a household name, that doesn't mean OSP is new to the scene. The light heavyweight competitor has been fighting professionally since 2010 and before that was an undefeated amateur, going 5-0 before he decided to make the jump to the professional level.
Saint Preux was born in Miami, Florida to Haitian parents. He sat down with Bleacher Report in 2011 to talk about his Haitian roots.
"My dad came here during the mid-70's and my mom came here in either 1980 or '81.
"Haiti is obviously a third-world country and my parents wanted their kids to grow up and get a good education. It was, kind of, like a new starting point; they thought that their kids should have a better life than they had growing up."
Although OSP didn't grow up in Haiti, that culture surrounded him as a child and is still very much a part of his life today.
I only speak Haitian Creole at home. My first language—even though I was born in the States—was Haitian Creole. My mom speaks English, but she barely speaks English. We have to translate for her quite a bit.
"Through Haitian Creole is one of the only ways that I can communicate with my mom. There was definitely an emphasis on Haitian culture at home."
It was in high school that OSP discovered his love for athletics; sports was an area in which he truly flourished. As a wrestler, OSP had a 26-1 record and was the state's 1-A runner-up. As a track and field athlete, he ran the 110m hurdles, 300m hurdles, the 4x400 relay and competed in the discus throw.
But it was football where he truly shined. As a senior, OSP racked up 75 tackles and 18 sacks, which was a school record. More importantly, he was named Allstate. Pretty good for someone who came to the sport later than most do at his age.
"Florida is really a football-state and I got into it late, but when I got into it, I immediately fell in love with it. I didn’t know that it would take me as far as it did—taking me to a major university—but I thought I was an average player. Midway through high-school, though, I think something kicked in and I got really, really good at football."
That major university was The University of Tennessee. OSP played for the SEC Tennessee Volunteers from 2001 to 2004. He was a reserve defensive end and linebacker after he redshirted in 2001. He played 17 games during his college career and earned varsity letters in 2002 and 2004. As good as he was at the game, OSP never cracked the NFL.
"A lot of people ask me why I didn’t go into the NFL and play football, but it’s hard to play football in the NFL; less than one percent of college players make it to the NFL. A lot of people ask me why I quit on the NFL, but I say, 'I didn’t quit on the NFL—the NFL quit on me.'"
OSP graduated from The University of Tennessee in 2004 with a degree in sociology. He was also a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, an organization he would later attribute much of his confidence to in the octagon. It was after college that he would discover kickboxing and grappling, two things that came about on a sort of fluke.
"I was going to kickboxing practice—it wasn’t kickboxing practice, though—and from there, I just fell in love with martial arts. The work-ethic part really struck me, because I love working out and pushing myself to the max. Mixed martial arts definitely does that."
At first, martial arts was nothing more than a way for OSP to get into shape and protect himself. Eventually, however, it would grow into more.
"[I did it] just to train and get in shape and for self-defence. My coach asked me if I wanted to fight, but I declined at first. He, kind of, convinced me to fight. He said that one of two things can happen after your first fight.
"He said that if you lose, then you’re going to work really hard to get better or if you win, then you’re going to take it and you’re going to want more. I ended up winning my first fight and I wanted more."
It was that desire for more that led him to get to 5-0 as an amateur. The next logical step would be for Saint Preux to start fighting professionally. At first, he had some doubts as to how far he could go, but it was his coach who gave him the confidence he needed to enter the octagon as a career.
"I asked my coach how far he thought I could make it and he said, 'To be quite honest, you could make it to the Strikeforce- or UFC-level with your talent. If you want to.' I was like, 'Okay.' That’s when I decided that I was going to give it everything I had. One thing led to another and I really don’t know when it happened."
Normally one might consider that advice to be a little lofty, but not OSP. He found someone whose opinion he could trust.
"I look up to my coach; the relationship that I have with my coach is great. Sometimes people will tell you something and you, kind of, second-guess it, but if my coach tells me something, then there’s no second-guessing—it’s just, 'Let’s do this.' 'Okay, cool.'"
Having trust that a mentor or coach isn't going to put you in harm's way only helps build confidence and character.
"If [my coach] tells me that he has a game-plan for me to fight a gorilla—'I know how you’re going to beat up this gorilla'—then I’m going to go out there and I’m going to be like, 'Yeah—I’m going to kick this gorilla’s ass.'"
Ovince Saint Preux made his professional debut at VFC 1, where he fought Rodney Wallace. Unlike his amateur career, OSP's professional one started off with a loss by decision. A loss that would repeat itself in his second professional outing. As the saying goes, though, the third time's the charm. OSP won his first professional fight at XFC 7: School of Hard Knox with a crushing kick to the head. In 2009, he was runner-up for Inside MMA's Submission of the Year. A calf slicer in his fight with Ombey Mobley garnered him that accolade.
OSP signed a multi-fight deal with Strikeforce in 2010. He faced Chris Hawk in his first bout, which OSP won by TKO in the first round. His beginnings in Strikeforce would be more reflective of his time spent as an amateur. Saint Preux would win his first five fights for the company, eventually losing his sixth by unanimous decision to Gegard Mousasi.
OSP's loss wouldn't keep him down for long. He returned to the octagon less than a year later to face T.J. Cook at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman. That fight would end in a third-round knockout punch thrown by OSP.
In 2013, the landscape of MMA fighting changed. Zuffa, the parent company of both UFC and Strikeforce, decided to close down the Strikeforce brand. Most of the fighters that were still under contract with Strikeforce moved over to the UFC. OSP was one of those fighters.
He debuted in the UFC at UFC 159 on April 27, 2013. That fight would go the distance and end in a decision win in favor of Saint Preux. He would go on to win his next four fights under the UFC banner.
Heading into his fight with Jones, OSP is 3-2 in his last five fights and is ranked No. 6 in the division. He has won the Performance of the Night bonus twice and the Fight of the Night once. So how does the No. 6 in line for the belt feel about taking cuts? Here's what he told MMA Junkie about the pressure of getting into the ring against Jones for an interim title.
"[The interim championship title] adds a little more pressure. Not to me, but to him. In a situation like that, what do you have to lose?"
It's that nothing-to-lose attitude that should cause Jones some worry. Although, it's fair to say that Saint Preux isn't going into the octagon with the former champ without a strategy. Quite the opposite.
"I might not put you away, but you’re going to feel it, and your knees are going to buckle. And if I hit you with a third one, it will put you away. That’s the happy medium I’ve been working on."
It's a strategy he feels confident using against a fighter like Jones.
"Guys like that, you break them out of their pattern, and that’s what I intend to do. If I have the opportunity to finish him, I’m going to go ahead and take that opportunity. I guarantee you, he knows, as well as his camp knows, I can do that if the opportunity presents itself."
It's this type of confidence that OSP has had throughout his entire career. Back in 2011, this is what he had to say about pressure:
"I just ignore it. I just keep on doing what I’ve always been doing—training to the fullest and not holding anything back. A lot of people, when they get in a situation, they hold a little back, but when they look back, they say, 'Man, I wish I gave it everything I had.' Every situation that I get into, I give everything and let the cards fall where they may."
Now, almost five years later, Saint Preux hasn't changed, nor has he allowed the business to change him.
"People don’t realize it, but mixed martial arts is a sport of inches; one minute you could be winning the fight and the next minute you could be waking up and saying, 'What happened?' People always try to have their predictions, but stuff happens."
At this point, there are two things standing in his way of going from No. 6 in the light heavyweight division and becoming the light heavyweight champ: Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. As for Jones?
"He’s a beast, and I’m a beast, too. We both can do some beast shit."
Two fighters enter the octagon, only one can leave a victor. We all know Jones is more than confident in his abilities, but what about Ovince Saint Preux? How does he see UFC 197 ending?
"I’ve always put myself in every scenario possible before my fights—trying to visualize everything—and every time that I do that, every scenario that I think of never happens. I predict that I’ll win, though."
On April 24, we'll find out if everyone knows the moniker: OSP.