During the UFC 261 live broadcast, Jorge Masvidal was seen advocating former teammate Alexis Vila's release from prison. "Gambred" entered the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena wearing a t-shirt that said #FreeAlexisVila. "Alexis, I love you," said Masvidal as he walked towards the camera upon his arrival at the arena.
But who is Alexis Vila and why was Jorge Masvidal campaigning for his release?
Alexis Vila, 50, used to train alongside Jorge Masvidal at the American Top Team in Florida. Vila, who also goes by the monicker Vila Perdomo, is a former 125-lbs MMA fighter.
The Cuban fighter fought for several promotions, including the WSOF (World Series of Fighting) and Bellator MMA, until 2016. Vila's last fight was a unanimous decision victory against Jorge Calvo Martin at Titan FC 40.
'The Exorcist', a two-time gold medalist at the World Championships (1993 and 1994), also has an Olympic medal to his name. At the 1996 Summer Olympics, Vila claimed the bronze medal in the Freestyle Light Flyweight (48kg) category.
In December 2019, Alexis Vila received a 15-year prison sentence following his suspected involvement in the murder of Camilio Salazar. According to a report by the Miami Herald, Vila had helped in arranging the kidnapping and torturous murder of Salazar in 2011.
Vila had committed the crime at the behest of South Florida supermarket magnate Manuel Marin, per the Miami Herald.
“He got fame and fortune as a young person. He was famous in the 3-0-5. People knew who he was,” Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine told the judge during Vila’s sentencing hearing. “Now, he sits here as who he is — someone who assisted in a murder.” (Transcription credits: the Miami Herald)
It appears that the American Top Team believes Alexis Vila was wrongfully charged with murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping. Coach Mike Brown posted a picture on Twitter recently with the hashtag #FreeAlexisVilla.
Alexis Vila's MMA venture
Following his success at the 1996 Olympics, Alexis Vila defected to the United States in 1997. He got a job at Michigan State University and began working with future UFC stars Rashad Evans and Gray Maynard.
The Cuban native got into a tussle with law enforcement in 2004 after he accidentally crashed his car into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Vila spent three years in prison after being mistakenly charged with attempted terrorism.
In 2007, Alexis Vila kicked off his MMA career on the regional circuit. Vila stacked up 9 straight victories and subsequently entered Bellator MMA in 2011.