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Torture and murder: Masvidal’s #FreeAlexisVila UFC 261 shirt explained

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Jorge Masvidal advocated for the release of a man convicted in connection to a brutal 2011 killing.

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Jorge Masvidal - UFC 261 Press Conference Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

In June 2011 Camilo Salazar was driven into a remote stretch of the Florida Everglades, his hands bound behind his back with a belt. After his kidnapper reached his desired location, Salazar was lead from the car and forced to kneel. Salazar was then brutally beaten, likely with a golf club, causing his skull and jaw to fracture. Then his throat was slit, not enough to kill him, as evidenced by the blood found in his lungs. After Salazar rolled onto his back, he was doused in gasoline. He was then set on fire, with the first sparks of flame being set around his genitals. It’s not known if Salazar was alive or dead when he was burned.

This weekend at UFC 261 welterweight title challenger Jorge Masvidal entered Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena wearing a t-shirt that said #FreeAlexisVila. In December 2019 Vila was sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating the killing of Salazar.

“Alexis, I love you,” said Masvidal as he walked towards the UFC’s cameras.

Vila (sometimes refereed to as Vila Perdomo or Vila-Perdomo) was born in Cuba in 1971. In the early 90s he represented Cuba in freestyle wrestling competition. In 1993 and 1994 he took gold medals in the 48 kg category at the World Championships. In 1995 he won gold at the Pan American games, also at 48 kg.

In 1996 Vila appeared at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA. Shortly after winning a bronze medal Vila defected to the United States. The following year he was hired by Michigan State University to be a wrestling coach. There he worked with future UFC stars Rashad Evans and Gray Maynard.

In 2004 Vila crashed his car into the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. No one was hurt, but Vila was initially suspected of attempted terrorism. He was officially charged with airport violence and sentenced to three years in prison.

Years later Vila’s manager claimed that the airport incident was a suicide attempt. When speaking to MMA Fighting in 2014 Vila said he was diagnosed with depression around the time of the incident and was drinking heavily.

After he was released from prison Vila began a pro MMA career. He got off to a good start, winning his first 11 contests. The last two wins of that streak were over Joe Warren (by KO) and Marcos Galvao (by split decision) in 2011’s Bellator Season 5 bantamweight tournament. Vila’s first pro loss was in the tournament final, to Eduardo Dantas.

Vila’s next fight was a loss to Luis Nogueira in the first round of the following year’s Bellator bantamweight tournament. After this Vila bounced around the Florida fight scene and appeared a handful of times for WSOF. His last pro fight was a win over Jorge Calvo at Titan FC 40 in August, 2016.

While training in MMA Vila associated with Ariel Gandulla, another Cuban defector and regional MMA fighter, and Roberto Isaac, a boxing coach and promoter. Vila also trained with Masvidal.

After retiring from pro MMA Vila worked at a Presidente supermarket location in Miami. He was given that job by Manuel Marin, who owned the location. Marin, a former wrestling coach in Puerto Rico, helped Vila defect from Cuba back in 1996. Marin, a fan of the Florida fight scene, also hired Vila to teach his son how to wrestle.

Marin is accused of also hiring Vila, Gandulla and Isaac to kill Salazar, whom he suspected was having an affair with his wife.

In December 2019 Isaac was given a life sentence for the actual killing of Salazar. Vila was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder for his role in recruiting Isaac and for acting as a go-between for Isaac and Marin as the actual murder unfolded. Gandulla, who fled to Canada shortly after the crime, testified against Vila and Isaac and received a 36 month sentence for participating in the kidnapping.

Marin, who fled to Spain after the crime and was captured there when he tried to renew his passport, is currently on trial for his alleged role as mastermind in this suspected murder-for-hire plot.