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Ferocious, Yet Humble: The Lion Heart of Javy 'Eye Candy' Ayala

Yvette R. Brisco profiles Bellator heavyweight Javy Ayala and his path to relevance in the MMA world.

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This is a guest post by Yvette R. Brisco. Follow Yvette on Twitter at @YvetteBrisco.

He stands across the cage, his intense gaze never leaves his opponent’s face. He paces back and forth like a caged lion, ready to pounce. His fierce expression is that of a predator stalking his prey, awaiting the perfect moment to strike. Like the big cat waiting to devour its quarry, Javy "Eye Candy" Ayala is ravenous, and that hunger can only be assuaged by his hand being raised at the conclusion of the bout. His determination to succeed knows no bounds. His appetite for victory knows no limits.

Much like the gladiators of old, today’s warriors are neither born, nor created, but a combination of both. So, what forces created this modern day warrior? Ayala was born into a poor family with parents who toiled in the fields all day. One of five children, he often had to care for himself, even getting a job to buy school clothes. At the tender age of 13, he picked oranges and did general maintenance in the fields. He said, "I had to grow up young, but I had a great childhood."

Part of that childhood included playing with cousins. Ayala treasures that time and credits the horseplay with helping him to be light on his feet. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the boys’ wrestling helped pave the way for his school performance and his MMA career.

Ayala’s high school wrestling coach, Olympian Tim Vanni, praised Ayala’s contributions to his high school team. After decades of losing to cross-town rivals at Monache High, Ayala led his Porterville High team to back-to-back victories. "Javier’s enthusiasm and motivation brought the team together. He was the anchor that secured the team’s place as league champions," said Vanni.

Ayala was introduced to MMA when a football teammate invited him to the gym to "check it out." That first encounter was all it took for him to fall in love with the sport. His first foray into the cage was all it took for him to fall in love with competing. Some may believe it was serendipity, but was actually his rendezvous with destiny.

Ayala’s cousin, Joe Soto, paved his way in MMA. Soto made history by winning the inaugural tournament to become Bellator’s first featherweight champion. "After school, we'd always be at our grandparents’ house playing outside, running around until our parents got off work. We did everything together; played on the same football teams, we did karate, and wrestled on the same teams," Soto reminisced.

While most fighters begin in the amateur ranks, Ayala chose a different path, starting as a professional. Former WEC champion and current Bellator middleweight Doug Marshall agrees. "I’m not a huge fan of amateur fights. One or two to get your feet wet, then it's time to go pro. I started as a pro 11 years ago. It was all or nothing, so I like that he started pro," said Marshall.

At 6’1" and 265 lbs, Ayala is a strapping, freestyle heavyweight. His extraordinary strength gives him one-punch knock out potential. He is surprisingly agile for someone who weighs in at the upper limits of the heavyweight division. It is not unusual to see him going for a head kick or flying knee.

When preparing for a fight, Ayala’s 12-week camp comprises three sessions each day, six days per week. He runs four miles at the break of dawn, then has late morning strength and conditioning (S&C) training. His S&C coach, Rudy Ramirez of UpTown Physique, spoke of Ayala’s discipline. "Javy is one of the toughest athletes I’ve trained. He has incredible motor speed and is so lightfooted for someone his size," mentioned Ramirez. "His work ethic and dedication to his craft makes it a pleasure to work with him. I know there are days when Javy doesn’t like me due to difficulty, but he pushes through and finishes. He’s a true warrior," remarked Ramirez.

MMA training in the evenings consists of hours on the mat and in the cage, country music blasting. Passion for the sport keeps him going when others would stop and say they’ve had enough.

Both his freshman and sophomore appearances were an impressive beginning towhat may be a very storied career. Ayala’s debut came against Gary LaFranchi, a first round, 41-second TKO that ended LaFranchi’s MMA career. Here, Ayala truly caught the fever. "After I won that fight, I felt that rush, and I’ve been chasing it ever since," Ayala said.

His second fight came against Rene Castaneda. Ayala took Castaneda down in 15 seconds, then dominated him, ending the contest with a TKO 1:33 in the first round.

After four consecutive wins, Ayala experienced his first loss in a crushing 31-second first-round knockout by the formidable Brandon Cash. Ayala received some very powerful punches from his opponent, and after a brief slugfest, Cash turned out the lights. Cash acknowledged that Ayala is a tough fighter who has improved since that stunning defeat. "We’ve done some work. Big guys are a rarity in this sport, especially in the 559 in California. We try to help each other out," said Cash.

That loss was followed by a second, heart-wrenching loss to Freddie Aquitania in a close split decision, made even more poignant by his defeat of Aquitania in their first encounter. Ayala struggled with his resolve after suffering those back-to-back losses. "I was starting to doubt myself, wondering if I should keep going forward," he agonized.

His coaches helped him through that bleak time. Coach David Whittington recognized his potential and was able to bring Ayala back from the brink of despair. We explained to him he’s got something special. He knew this is what he was meant to do. He’s a born fighter," said Whittington.

When opportunity came calling, Ayala was ready to answer. His first fight in Bellator was against veteran Thiago Santos, a Jiu Jitsu black belt with excellent striking. Ayala knew this would be his most challenging opponent, and he would have to step up his physicality and strategy to prevail. "We came up with a good game plan to beat him, and I’ve never felt as strong as I felt working out with (Ramirez)," Ayala opined.

He executed that game plan and, despite being the underdog, came out with the win. Ayala credits Ramirez with the outcome, saying, "I was able to still have that power at the end of the first round to knock him out."

Santos’ coach, Eric Albarricin, agreed. "We were just about to grab the stool and make our way into the cage at about 3 seconds and Javy hits him a devastating punch at the bell. Our fighter was pronounced KO’d. Javy fought to the end of the bell and was the better man that night," said Albarricin.

Santos’ powerful strikes suggested to some a quick defeat of Ayala, but "Eye Candy" is not one to abdicate his quest for the win. "He took a lot of big shots from Thiago and didn’t give up. He fought every second of the round," credited Albarricin.

Bellator commentator Sean Wheelock noted that although large promotions can be daunting, Ayala didn’t let it faze him. "It’s difficult when your first opponent in Bellator is against a seasoned vet like Santos, but Javy wasn’t intimidated. He remained calm and poised for an amazing upset," said Wheelock.

Ayala’s second fight in Bellator was against veteran Eric Prindle. Ayala was again rated the underdog, and once again his tenacity ushered in victory. "Javy is smart and understands the strategy off MMA and the game plan well," added Wheelock.

Prindle admired Ayala’s skills in the cage. "I think he has a great base for fighting with his wrestling and love of the fight game. He fought smart. Instead of trying to stay standing, he took me down and had good pressure on top," Prindle said. "I think he has a huge future in fighting and in life. If he stays injury free and keeps the frame of mind, the sky is the limit for him," Prindle added.

Many believe that Ayala is on the right track. "Javy is impressive," said Marshall. He has a lot of heart and that can’t be taught. He seems like a very humble guy. I think he has a great future in this sport." His cousin Soto agrees.

"I’m just excited for him and his future with Bellator. I think he has the potential to make a name for himself and a run for world title," Soto said, brimming with pride. "He’s a great person, family man, and role model for the youth in our community. It’s always great to see people from our community accomplish big things and reach new heights, and he’s doing that."

Coach Whittington credits Ayala’s amazing athleticism for putting him on the path to that bright future. "It’s frustrating that he can make things look so easy because he is so athletic," he said. Whittington indicated that athleticism combined with his incredible heart are what drive Eye Candy’s never-give-up attitude. He is a dynamic fighter whose vivacious spirit and moxie make him exciting to watch.

Although Ayala doesn’t like to look too far ahead, like almost every other fighter, he would like to wrap the gold belt around his waist one day. "I want to be a champion," he said, but his goals reach much further.

"I would like to go fight out of the country," he reflected. "I want to win as many fights as I can. I want to be as successful as I can as a fighter," he mused. Then, he revealed the bottom line. "I really want my name to be a household name. I want people to see me and say, ‘That’s Javy Ayala,’" he envisaged.

He knows that he will face many challenges on the road to the belt. "If I want to be a champion, I’m going to have to work hard for it. It’s not just going to be given to me. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it." Truer words may never have been spoken, and he will put in that hard work as he seeks to leave an indelible mark on the MMA community and become king of the jungle.

Recognition for all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears has arrived. The inception of the Cali Fights MMA Awards early in 2014 saw Ayala's first nomination for an MMA Award, along with other notable California fighters. In the heavyweight division, he was up against the likes of Josh Appelt, Dave Huckaba, and Josue Jr Lugo.

"Javier Ayala was up against some tough competition for Heavyweight of the Year during this year's First Annual Cali Fights Awards in Fresno," stated Marcial Marmolejo, editor in chief of the magazine. "It was his professional MMA record that locked in the 50 percent committee vote and his humble personality that assured the popularity vote," he revealed.

Even though Ayala is focused on training and readiness for his next fight, he did take time to share his personal life. Javy would say that his most important job is as father to 2 year old son Dominic and newborn daughter Scarlett Rose. He talked about the huge role family plays in his life.

Javy met his wife at work and was immediately smitten. He pursued her, but she held him at arm’s length. "I was like, ‘Give me a shot, give me a shot.’ Finally one day she said okay. We had a few rough times, but we’re still together," said Javy. He chased her until she caught him.

When asked to describe the most romantic thing he had done for his wife, his response was enough to melt a frozen heart. While his wife, pregnant with their first child and not feeling well, was gone to the store, Javy prepared paradise. Although the bubble bath alight with twinkling candles and soft music playing would put a smile on almost any woman’s face, Javy went even further with a relaxing massage and soothing conversation. The cozy scene confirms Javy as the small town guy with the really big heart.

Having children had a huge impact on that big heart, and Javy credits it with being what made him grow the most as a man. "I realized that I had to provide for somebody besides myself. I had to learn to take care of another human being," Javy recalled. It made him mature quickly and made him determined to be successful as a father and fighter.

Javy spends as much time as he can with Dominic, wrestling and playing. Dressed as the Hulk while his son’s Avengers persona is Captain America, together they demolish each other or save the world.

According to Javy, communication and trust are the keys to a successful marriage, and family time is the key to being a good father. He and his wife make it a priority to spend quality time with their children.

Javy knows the significance of being a good community member. Everyone has a responsibility to give back, so Javy takes to classrooms, talking to students about chasing their dreams. Javy’s message to them is simple, "There are no dreams too big that they can’t reach. You build your own future. You don’t let where you’re from make you." His humble attitude and great personality are a shining example to the youth.

When asked to describe Javy with one word, Whittington's immediate response was, "selfless!" "The man is always out to help other people before he worries about himself," he asserted. Many in Javy's life concur.

The sentiment is that he is the best friend a person could have. He's the kind of man you would want in a foxhole with you. When he says the words, "I've got your back," he truly means them. He is the gentle giant with the lion heart.

"He does have a good heart," said Cash. "Some guys are thoughtful and caring and respectful. He’s all of those," Cash maintained. He is a gentleman who still opens doors for ladies, proving that chivalry is not dead. His sincerity and earnestness are admirable traits. He’s still that ferocious lion in the cage, but is so honored to be there that the humble nature of the compassionate man cannot be ignored.

Javy Ayala has the potential to take the MMA scene by storm. He is a rising star who is just beginning to tap into his potential. Although there is a bit of luck thrown in the mix, there is a level of skill and a tremendous amount of concentrated power of will. Add to that the pleasure of the pursuit and the pain of the struggle, and the ingredients are all in place. With a captivating smile, an engaging personality, and the desire to be the best fighter he can be, we may indeed fulfill the demands of his new walk out song: Remember The Name.

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