40-year-old Alexis Vila’s long, strange trip

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Alex Vila entered the conciousness of the sport Saturday night with a potential knockout of the year candidate in a non title bout vs. Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Warren (see bottom). How he got there includes defection and years in jail on a terrorism charge.

Vila was a bronze medalist in wrestling at the 1996 Olympics, when he represented his native Cuba. A year later he defected to the United States and began exploring the possibility of becoming a professional fighter — but that process was nearly derailed when he was sent to prison for three years after what he says was an accident, but the authorities labeled a terrorist act.

In 2004 Vila crashed his SUV into a Southeast Airlines ticket counter and smashed through a wall at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Then he ran. No one was hurt, and Vila has always maintained that it was simply an accident. But authorities initially believed Vila had committed a terrorist act, and, after commitment for a psychiatric evaluation, charged Vila with committing airport violence, a felony that could have put him in prison for 20 years. He eventually pleaded guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.

“I was in prison for three years,” Vila said. “It’s no good. I’m a little guy so people who don’t know me try things all the time. So I fought a lot. They didn’t believe that I could fight. I said when I get out and I fight I’m going to be the champ.”

“My dad is really sick over there (in Cuba) but there’s nothing I can do. I can only send money, not visit. I tell my mom, I send money so you guys can have a better life.”

Vila made it through the first round of the eigh-man tournament. Two more fights, and he will have a lot more money to send home.