The intense anticipation of the crowd permeates throughout the arena, the booming bass of the fighters’ entrance music rumbles through the floors, the last minute instructions and encouragement from each fighter’s respective corners.

It all culminate with an opening bell on Saturday at Bellator 55, as Alexis Vila will stand before Marcos Galvao, another obstacle in Vila’s quest to win the Bellator bantamweight tournament. At that moment, when the bell sounds, Vila will take a step forward and comfortably be in his own element, a fighter on a mission.

With the rise in popularity of MMA, fans have been exposed to many fighters along the way, but few look as comfortable as the undefeated Vila when in the ring. The seemingly natural fighter that is on display today has persevered over many trials and tribulations in his life which have undoubtedly attributed to his success.

Vila (l) battles Joe Warren at Bellator 51 (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Before taking a step forward to battle Galvao, Vila took a step onto a wrestling mat over 25 years ago as a 14-year old boy living in Cuba. Introduced to the sport by his older brother, Vila began Freestyle wrestling and soon learned how to deal with adversity. Even after moving quickly up the national ranks in the Freestyle discipline, Vila was discarded by the team. Not to be deterred Vila took up a new discipline, Greco-Roman, which he quickly mastered to eventually earn his way back onto the Freestyle team and win a national championship. Vila continued to have success at the international level winning the Pan-American games, two World Championships, and an Olympic bronze medal.

Vila continued to enjoy success as he defected from Cuba and began coaching reputable NCAA Division I college teams. However, more adversity unknowingly lied ahead when a misfortunate accident lead to Vila being imprisoned for three years. If one were to look at Vila’s athletic career they would notice a ten-year absence between the international wrestling success in 1997 and the MMA debut in 2007. When asked, Vila peacefully stated, “I got into some trouble.”

The trouble came in 2004, when Vila crashed into an airport terminal. After an investigation, the accident was labeled a terrorist attack. The next step Vila took was into a prison cell. Although many individuals would not recover from such adversity, Vila used the time in prison to prepare for all of the steps he planned to take once he was beyond the prison wall’s confines.

“Defecting, being in the United States with no family, prison, it made me a better fighter, I don’t fight for myself, now I fight for my family,” Vila told The MMA Corner.

Vila (l) looks to finish Warren (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Vila is a man that is determined and does not let adversity shape his life, rather Vila embraces the adversity and applies it in a manner that brings success. “The Exorcist” has attended the school of hard knocks and simultaneously developed his fighting ability for virtually the entirety of his life. Now, the veteran of ten fights is on a mission.

“I said before I signed with Bellator that I am going to win the championship and that is what I am going to do,” Vila confidently stated. Vila’s goals go far beyond the current tournament. “The goal I try to reach is to be the best in the world, to hold the title in any weight class I am (in)…this is my goal. The dedication, everything to keep in shape to keep my condition.”

Vila started to make good on his promise in the quarterfinals of the Bellator bantamweight tournament at Bellator 51 with a sensational knockout of the highly-touted Bellator featherweight champion Joe Warren. The knockout has since gone viral, being viewed by tens-of-thousands of fight fans across the world.

“There’s more to come,” Vila promised. When pressed to reveal what is in store for the Galvao fight, Vila was more elusive in dishing a slippery, “Watch and see what happens.”

Many will be watching Vila on Saturday, and the success, for the American Top Team product, can all be attributed to his first steps on a wrestling mat so long ago.

“My wrestling is everything, wrestling prepared me to be the guy that I am now,” Vila said. However, he knows MMA is more than wrestling and those watching will recognize Vila is a natural fighter. “If you have good stand-up, I break you down with my wrestling, and I will knock you out. I don’t worry about if the fight goes down or stands up.

“I have good wrestling, I have good stand-up and I have very good grappling. If you want to stand up I am going to knock you out, so I deliver a message to everybody.”

Vila (top) knocks out Warren (Bellator)

Specific to the fight with Galvao, Vila also has a message. Galvao is well known for his jiu-jitsu, but Vila is not concerned.

“He (has) to be safe on the bottom, because I have the power to knock (him) out on the bottom,” explained Vila. “He needs to be sure when he goes to the ground.”

When Galvao does stand, he is often wildly effective, but once again Vila is not concerned.

“I expect the knee, the outside low kick,” he said. “I expect everything he (does), so I am ready. Everything he is going to do in the fight, I know.”

One last message before the bell rings and Vila takes that first step towards Galvao and his ultimate goal: “When he sees how strong I am, I am going to break him, mentally. Nobody is going to stop me. I am going to get the belt.”

Alexis Vila would like to thank his sponsors: Kwok Wah YingSwole Sports NutritionGakZoomIntimidation ClothingVicious Clothing, Arancibia Bail Bonds and MI Entertainment

Top Photo: Alexis Vila (Bellator)

This piece was authored by Chase Buzzell. You can find Chase via his LinkedIn Profile.

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