Riding a three-fight win streak, and having just dispatched of Phil Baroni on national television, Villasenor was primed to avenge his 2006 loss to Robbie Lawler – and vie for the EliteXC middleweight title in the process. Then it all went away.
"It was tough," Villasenor recently told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "As an athlete, and somebody that loves competing, it was tough sitting on the sidelines."
Villasenor hit his stride just as his employer, ProElite, was stumbling. A homecoming bout in Albuquerque, N.M., was mentioned. Then it was a much-desired title fight against his nemesis Lawler. But in the end, EliteXC closed up shop, and "Smokin' Joe" was left without a fight.
"I've kind of lived through my teammates as of late," Villasenor said. "Fighting-wise, man, it's just been tough. I just want to compete.
"A lot of times athletes take a long period of time off due to an injury or some kind of financial matter. For me it was just not having a fight, and that was the most frustrating thing."
Fortunately for Villasenor, Strikeforce picked up his contract during its acquisition of several of ProElite's top assets. Of course, even that didn't go exactly as planned.
Villasenor was originally told by the organization that would be fighting on May 15, but that date was then changed to June 6 and the main card of "Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields" in St. Louis.
"When my fight got pushed back from May 15 to June 6, I about lost my mind," Villasenor said. "I had a nervous breakdown. I curled up in a little corner and cried like a baby."
Villasenor said he took a few days off, regrouped, and began the preparation process process for his June bout.
"I had to cut loose for a couple days," Villasenor said. "I fly-fished for about three days and got away from the city. I got away from training for awhile and tried to mentally get re-focused.
"Now I've got this fight coming up June 6, and I'm just excited to be training again for a fight that I believe is going to happen."
Villasenor hasn't yet signed a bout agreement for a particular opponent, but the Greg Jackson Mixed Martial Arts fighter believes it will be against Brazilian slugger Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos (16-12).
"The idea is Evangelista 'Cyborg' Santos," Villasenor said. "That's been the idea for the past few months. His name keeps on coming up. We're just waiting for them to actually confirm the fight, but it sounds like that's going to be my opponent.
"[Strikeforce] also mentioned it could be a few other guys. They said it could be Trevor Prangley, Frank Trigg, or Falaniko Vitale. They were throwing those names around, but it sounds like it's going to be Santos now. I'm just preparing as if it's going to be him."
While the four potential opponents present a myriad of different styles to consider, Villasenor said he was never concerned.
"The diversity of our school helps us prepare for anything," Villasenor said. "I feel like I'm a well-rounded mixed martial artist. There's been times when I've had to change my gameplan within a week, and I've been successful doing so.
"I feel like all my teammates really complement me and make me feel ready for anybody at any time. Of course I'd love to focus on one person and one person only. But that's the sport. It's called mixed martial arts, and you've got to be well-rounded in all areas. I think my teammates keep my sharp."
When Villasenor makes the trip to St. Louis for his June 6 bout, it will have been more than a year since he last fought. While he would seem a prime candidate for ring-rust, the 33-year-old feels his world-class camp will have him well-prepared.
"You always hear about ring-rust," Villasenor said. "I've actually gone out to some big fights of my teammates. I've been backstage, watched them warm up, basically put myself in their shoes. I think that's where ring-rust comes from. Physically, I feel better than ever and sharper than ever. But the ring-rust comes from mental (preparation).
"It's not physical. I think it comes from mentally being prepared and ready. I've been to a couple of big fights with my teammates and made some big walks out with them – feeling the energy and trying to put myself in that situation and visualize and focus."
And for Villasenor, who went on an impressive 15-fight winning streak from 2002 to 2006, the mental aspect of the game has become a central key to his success.
"When I went on my big winning streak for King of the Cage, those were people that I was naturally better than," Villasenor said. "But then I fought guys like (Murilo) 'Ninja' Rua, (David) Loiseau, and Lawler, and the competition took a step up. It literally took a few fights fighting at that higher lever to grasp the psychology of it.
"It's a big deal stepping up from C-level to A-level. There's a big difference, and I don't think a lot of people realize that. I feel like there were some things that I had to experience. I had to experience these losses to pinpoint what I needed to fix. Even though I hate losing, I'm glad I experienced the things I did to become the fighter and the person I am now. I feel I've gotten those things out of the way, and I'm ready to put forth my best efforts at that level."
Physically healthy and mentally sound, Villasenor is once again prepared to be a relevant force in the middleweight division.
"It's amazing what a year will do for you when you're out," Villasenor said. "I want to fight the best. I want to fight the best Strikeforce has to offer. I want to upset a lot of people.
"I feel that I'm overlooked at times. I haven't been mentioned in the mixed martial arts media in a while because I haven't fought in a while. I've got to come out with a roar."
And while Santos appears to be Villasenor's first target, he's got several more on the list.
"I want to run the board," Villasenor said. "I want to beat Lawler. I'd love to beat Scott Smith. I'm just down for whoever.
"I think that there's going to be a lot of changing of the guard, so to speak, with Strikeforce now. I'm just excited to be in the mix, but I want to be the champ."