At 41 years of age, dynamic professional MMA fighter Alexis “The Exorcist” Vila has had an incredibly storied life, a life that most people don’t experience even if they live to the ripe old age of 80. Widely considered one of the top flyweights in the world, the road to the top has been eventful, to say the least.

Vila was born in 1971 in Villa Clara, a northern province of Cuba, the largest Caribbean island. After wrestling as a youngster, the talented competitor eventually worked his way into the world rankings in freestyle wrestling. In 1993 and 1994, he won gold medals at the World Championships, and followed up with a silver medal in 1995. In 1995, he also won a gold in the Pan American Games, before going on to Atlanta to win the bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.

After the 1996 Olympics, Vila defected to the United States, because he felt he had no future in Cuba. He lived in the Miami area for nearly four years, before moving to Michigan, where he worked with the Michigan State University Wrestling program for a few years, before moving back to Florida.

Vila (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

In 2004, Vila had an accident at the Fort Lauderdale Airport which sidelined him for a while. In the incident, Vila’s car ran through the doors and into the terminal, crashing through a Southeast Airlines terminal and a wall before coming to a rest. Vila was later arrested on suspicion of terrorism, but had that pleaded down, as he maintained it was just an accident. Vila served three years in prison on the lesser charge.

After getting out of prison, Vila began training again with a focus on MMA. A wrestling background has continuously proven to be one of the best bases for MMA, and he has one of the very best wrestling backgrounds around. In the mid-90s, Vila was widely considered the best wrestler in the world. The transition to MMA was even easier for him than some other wrestlers.

“My decision for the transition into MMA came easy, because I used to box before,” Vila said in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “When I was five years old, I started to box, so I got used to the transition to MMA right away.”

Vila currently splits his training between South Miami Sports Performance and the popular American Top Team.

“I train at American Top Team in Kendall, and I train at American Top Team in Coconut Creek. I train my stand-up with Paulino Hernandez and Manuel Lopez. I train at Coconut Creek with [Ricardo] Liborio, and with Tommy Barzini for my wrestling.”

With a background in the highest levels of wrestling, experience in boxing, and one of the greatest camps in all of MMA, Vila came onto the scene like a whirlwind.

In 2007, at 36 years of age, Vila opened his first professional fight with a submission by guillotine choke. Then, in his second bout, he earned a unanimous decision. After his first decision, Vila managed to finish all but one of his opponents by first- or second-round knockout, with the other win coming via a 35-second submission. After racking up a record of 9-0 in a little over three years, the Cuban-born fighter earned a spot in the Bellator season-five bantamweight tournament. It marked a move out of the flyweight division, but the shift in weight was a necessity in order to get on a bigger circuit at a time when flyweights were relegated solely to the regional promotions.

In the first round of the tournament at Bellator 51 in Sept. 2011, Vila upset top-ranked Joe Warren with a first-round knockout in just over a minute. Even though he was already becoming known as a dangerous striker, this win really boosted Vila’s street credit as a force to be reckoned with.

In the semifinal round of the tournament at Bellator 55, Vila defeated BJJ black belt and MMA veteran Marcos Galvao by split decision, before losing to the highly-acclaimed Eduardo Dantas in the finals at Bellator 59. The loss to Dantas was the first of Vila’s professional career.

After suffering his first defeat, Vila got right back at it, entering the next Bellator bantamweight tournament, where he suffered his second loss at Bellator 65, also by decision, to Luis Nogueira. After his second Bellator loss, and with flyweights now receiving more attention at the highest levels of the sport, Vila made the decision to move back down to 125 pounds in hopes of getting into the UFC flyweight title hunt.

“Being a flyweight is my natural weight,” Vila admitted. “I feel more comfortable at flyweight. The losses I had to Dantas and Nogueira at Bellator, they made me tough.”

Well, not to disagree, but Vila was already tough. In fact, for him to enter the bantamweight division of Bellator as a natural flyweight and only lose by decision is proof enough that he is by far one of the toughest 125-pound fighters on the planet.

However, as with any great fighter, Vila was able to learn something about himself after his losses.

“When you are in MMA, you try to be better at everything—the standing, the throwing, the conditioning, the transitions, the submissions and the wrestling,” Vila explained. “No matter how good you are at wrestling, you need to have good transitions to be able to do any wrestling or anything else. I learned that I need to work conditioning and if the fight goes five rounds, I have to be ready for anything that happens.”

He better be ready for five rounds, because that could come as early as his next fight, which takes place on Jan. 19.

On Saturday, at the ninth installment of Championship Fighting Alliance in Coral Gables, Fla., Vila will face 28-year-old Josh Sampo for the CFA flyweight title.

Sampo, who fights out of St. Charles MMA in St. Louis, is no stranger to tough competition. He has faced some pretty notable opponents, losing to WEC and UFC veteran Will Campuzano by knockout and, in his most recent fight, winning by unanimous decision over longtime WEC vet Antonio Banuelos. However, therein lies the problem for Sampo.

Vila (R) lands a kick (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Vila is a mean, fast finisher. The guy carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and is ready to destroy anybody standing in his path to eventual UFC flyweight glory. Sampo, on the other hand, has four submission wins and four decision wins on his record, with no knockouts of his own. It’s easy to predict how this fight will go down.

“I didn’t know about Josh Sampo,” Vila confessed. “I was open to fight anyone, so I’m not worried about it. No matter what he tries to do, I’m going to make him fight my way. He’s not going to be able to fight his way. He’s going to see that it’s going to be different once the cage closes.

“I think he’s good, too, but he’s not at my level. This is what I feel. My prediction is that I win. I won’t come to play games. I will come to knock him out. That’s my prediction right there.”

Vila’s prediction is arguably the most likely outcome of this fight.

So, what’s next?

“I want the title in the UFC,” Vila stated. “I want to fight for the title to prove that I am the No. 1 flyweight in the world.”

Even though Vila has not had a chance to fight guys with last names like Johnson, McCall, Benavidez or Dodson, there is no question that, quite possibly, the oldest flyweight in the world could easily be the best. Put Vila in the cage with one of these guys and some young buck could easily end up taking an unexpected nap, given that Vila is one of the few knockout artists of the flyweight division.

Vila may be a crushing fighter, but he is also a very family-oriented man. With much of his family still in Cuba, he tries to make the most of his time in the United States.

“Outside of MMA, I like to spend time with my son, Andy,” Vila said. “He’s four years old. I like to take care of my family and that’s about it.”

Family and fighting. That’s what Alexis Vila is all about. Come Saturday, Josh Sampo will most certainly get a first-hand look at one of the scariest men in all of MMA.

“I want everybody to know ‘The Exorcist’ is coming back stronger. I want my title in the UFC.”

In addition to his coaches and teammates, Alexis Vila would like to thank his sponsors: Throat Punch, Precision Nutrition and Arancibia Bail Bonds, as well as his managers, Tina Vidal and ML Management.

Top Photo: Alexis Vila (L) connects with a left hand (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator