It’s been a long time coming for Bellator’s Javy Ayala, who is entering his 11th fight with the promotion.
The heavyweight has often struggled to gain recognition from fans and fellow fighters, as his distorted professional record of 11-7 doesn’t at all scream ‘top-ranked fighter.’ However, times are beginning to change. In December, the 30-year-old picked up a TKO win over former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. His performance stunned all viewers, as he was able to denaturalize Mir’s black belt offense and piece-up the savvy veteran on the feet.
“Eye Candy” even fractured the former champion’s jaw due to the sheer accuracy and damage of his punches.
“I heard the next day he had fractured his jaw and I was like ‘Oh man that’s crazy’,” Ayala said in an interview with The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko.
“I was watching that highlight video Bellator put up and I saw one of the big elbows land and [thought] that’s the one that probably broke his jaw.”
Despite walking away with the knockout victory, the fight left many, including Mir himself, wanting a rematch. For some time it was unclear which route Bellator was going to take, nonetheless, they opted not to book a second bout between the two. Ayala stated that he would’ve happily accepted a rematch if the organization presented him with the offer.
“Bellator never brought it up to my attention or anything, but a lot of people were asking ‘what do you think about rematching him?’ I was like, you know what, if that’s who Bellator wants me to fight, I’ll fight him.”
There was controversy surrounding the finish and if the referee made the correct decision in not giving Mir his mouthpiece back immediately, something that Ayala doesn’t understand.
“I messed him up way before his mouthpiece came out. He looked tired already. Even his takedowns – I was able to stuff [them]. He just looked like he was done already.”
More than just a KO artist
For Javy Ayala, his last outing versus Frank Mir solidified the heavyweight as a well-rounded adaptable fighter, with a massively improved ground game.
The 10-fight Bellator veteran spoke on his recent wrestling and jiu-jitsu adjustments and why defense is now a big part of his training.
“After that fight, we started working a lot more on takedown defense because we noticed that’s the point where I’m lacking. One other thing is, a lot of people didn’t notice, but this was the second jiu-jitsu black belt I had on top of me and I pretty much stopped their whole offense.”
“I felt comfortable on my back. There were a few times I saw him going for things but I never really felt in danger.”
On August 24 at Bellator 225, Ayala has the opportunity to prove he is one of Bellator’s elite when he takes on former heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov – a prodigious step up in competition.
Minakov boasts a mixed martial arts record of 21-1, with his sole defeat coming at the hands of Cheick Kongo earlier this year. The Russian holds wins over formidable opposition such as Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Cheick Kongo and Alexander Volkov – all of whom are UFC veterans.
Balancing a full-time job and a career in MMA is undeniably difficult, yet Javy Ayala was never going to turn the chance to compete against one of Bellator’s best.
“I’ve been training hard since [his last fight] and I was pretty much just waiting on Bellator. There’s a few fights that were lined up, but they ended up falling off. And then they called me about two months ago about fighting Vitaly and I was like ‘yeah, you know I’ll definitely fight him’. I have no problem with it.”
“Eye Candy” revealed that his upcoming opponent was not even on his radar up until the February loss to Kongo. Minakov will be more dangerous than ever, but Ayala has been visualizing a fight with the former champion for years.
“He’s still one of the top dogs. He was the champ, so that’s what I was gunning for. Back when I started fighting in Bellator he was the undisputed champ, and I was like ‘I’m going to fight him one day’. And sure enough, here came that day.”
In between training camps, fighters often make changes to their team, style of training, and even go as far as to change gyms. For this fight, Ayala has brought in a fitness coach who deals with his nutrition as well as his overall strength and health.
He feels rejuvenated heading into his August 24 bout.
“He works with my nutrition and made me start adding in weights and things like that. I feel like I’ve benefited a lot from it. Normally when I start a fighting camp, I’m super heavy. I love to eat, but he had me on a good strict diet and my weights really as close as its ever been. So like right now I’m walking around at the weight I usually, or lighter than the weight I get there the week of the fight – so I feel good.”
The 30-year-old has made effective adaptations to his training, diet, and also the way he thinks about fighting.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot: I run a lot smarter. When I first started fighting I would take fights on shorter notice and things like that. So now I’ve gotten a lot smarter, I think about the fight [and I’ve] got a [solid] game plan.”
Bellator 225 will be headlined by Matt Mitrione and Sergei Kharitonov, who compete in a much-anticipated rematch. This main event is immensely important for Ayala, as it may reveal his next opponent if he is victorious.
Javy Ayala already holds a first-round KO over Kharitonov, but a second fight could be on the cards depending on the outcome of both fights. However, a fight “Eye Candy” would love to partake in would be against Matt Mitrione.
“Matt’s a tough guy and every time he fights I watch to study him. I feel like he’s real athletic, kind of like me. Me and him are both athletic guys so I think it would make for a super exciting fight.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.