Everybody has heard of the “American Dream.” It’s played out in rags-to-riches types of stories all the time. Everybody wants to be given the opportunity to be successful.

It’s inspirational to think that there are people out there who have been able to overcome adversity or who have come from having nothing to be able to live a life of which they once could only dream about. It’s not always about having money or fame, though. Sometimes, it’s the little things that count.

As clichéd as it may sound, the “American Dream” is a very real ideal for Alexis Vila, who has had a path to the cage like no other.

Alexis Vila (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

The Olympian wrestler fled his native Cuba just a year after a successful showing at the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996. Over the past 16 years, his “American Dream” has started to come to fruition, albeit with some challenges along the way.

“Coming over here was very hard, but I remember the time I came here. You have opportunity over here. People don’t know what it’s like in Cuba,” Vila revealed in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “[I have] never [gone back]. There really is a lot of situation with the government over there, so I decided to defect. I have a daughter and family over there, so it was [a] very hard decision to make.”

In 2004, Vila’s life was to change in a way he never could have imagined. He was sentenced to three years in prison after a car accident at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was deemed by authorities to be an act of attempted terrorism. Life after prison can be a hard journey to come to terms with, but he was able to use his experience to reflect on what he wanted to do with his life.

“It was the worst time of my life,” he admitted. “I want to be able to prove to people [that] whatever your goal is, you can achieve it. I like to represent where I am coming from and want everyone to know that I can succeed.”

There are a lot of instances where fighters have made a transition from competing in wrestling to finding success in mixed martial arts. Vila is another prime example of what the dedication and skill set from competing as a wrestler can do in mixed martial arts.

“It felt really great to be part of the 1996 wrestling team,” he explained. “Wrestling is beautiful for MMA, but you can’t only have that. You have to have hands as well. [Competing in] wrestling is very similar, and with wrestling, you have to train really hard. Sometimes in wrestling, I would have two or three matches in one day.”

In his Olympic campaign in 1996, Vila won bronze in the light flyweight (48 kg/105.8 pound) category. Recently, he has dipped down to compete in the flyweight division in mixed martial arts, but at this stage he is content with just being able to compete, regardless of the weight class. He doesn’t look to slow down anytime soon, as he looks toward his World Series of Fighting debut on Oct. 26 against Josh Rettinghouse.

Vila (R) battles Czar Sklavos (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“I fight wherever; it doesn’t bother me,” he admitted. “I have been working really hard with everything, and I really want to become a world champion. My goal is to win a title, and when I decide to do something, I want to be the best at it. I look forward to my first fight with World Series [of Fighting].”

It may have been a tough road traveled for Vila, but with a three-fight winning streak awaiting him should he pick up a win this coming weekend, his goal of being a title holder in mixed martial arts is a dream that could very well come true.

At one point, it was a very real possibility that the “American Dream” for Vila was always going to be that little bit too far out of reach. Now, as he continues to excel inside and outside of the cage, it won’t be long until his goals are realized in the “Land of Opportunity.”

Alexis would like to thank All Out Fight Shop, Arancibia Bail Bonds, American Top Team Kendall and Coconut Creek, and ML Management. Follow Vila on Twitter: @Alexis_Vila135

Top Photo: Alexis Vila (red trunks) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.