Javy Ayala plans on 'roughing up' former champ Vitaly Minakov in Bellator 225 clash

Last time we saw Javy Ayala in action inside the Bellator cage, he defeated one of his heroes, finishing former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir at Bellator 212 in Hawaii last December.

Now the heavyweight known as “Eye Candy” is looking to deliver another eye-catching performance as he looks to hand former Bellator heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov the second defeat of his MMA career.

The pair are set to meet in the co-main event of Bellator 225 in Bridgeport, Conn., on Aug. 24, and the affable American chatted to MMA Junkie about the win that gave him his shot at the former champ.

“Yeah, I was super-excited,” he said, looking back at his last victory. “I’ve always been a fan of Frank Mir, so just getting the opportunity to fight him was a big honor for me. And then to go in and get the win and the stoppage, … I was like ‘Oh, man!’ It was a dream come true to come out here and beat one of my idols. It felt amazing.”

That victory gave Ayala a priceless win, as he snapped a two-fight losing streak that saw him drop contests with Roy Nelson and Cheick Kongo. But now, thanks to his second-round stoppage of Mir, Ayala finds himself in a decent spot, with the recently completed Bellator heavyweight tournament leaving the division in a state of transition.

Reigning champion Ryan Bader will put his belt on the line against Kongo at Bellator 226 on Sept. 7, but with the dust still settling following the Bellator heavyweight grand prix, it means there’s a host of heavyweight contenders looking to rebuild after tournament losses.

And with the playing field leveled somewhat, Ayala (11-7 MMA, 6-4 BMMA) believes that if he can follow up his finish of Mir with a strong performance – and a win – against Minakov (21-1 MMA, 5-1 BMMA), he could force himself into the heavyweight title discussion.

“I feel like it can,” he said. “There’s a lot of tough heavyweights in Bellator, and I feel like now, after this tournament’s done, OK, it brings everybody back down. They’re going to start looking at everybody, and they’re going to match us up and see who’s doing good against who, and we’ll go from there. As long as I keep winning, I’ll keep moving up the rankings in Bellator.”

The fight, itself, presents Ayala with arguably the toughest test of his MMA career. Former champion Minakov was undefeated prior to his loss to Kongo in a contest that didn’t show the Russian heavyweight in his best form. But Ayala knows that if he can repeat the trick and score a win of his own against Minakov, he could move one big step closer to title contendership.

“This one’s very important for me, especially with Vitaly being a former champ,” he admitted. “To go out there and win in dramatic fashion would definitely throw my name out there a lot more, and I’d start to become recognized as a top contender.

“I super-watched that (Minakov-Kongo) fight, because I knew I would eventually end up fighting Kongo again, or I’d end up fighting Minakov. And, sure enough, I’m fighting Minakov. I took from that fight that he’s a tough guy, he’s a gamer, he comes to fight and to swing ’em, and I feel that his style and my style are going to match up to make an exciting fight.”

At the age of 30, Ayala is comparatively young in a Bellator heavyweight division that is packed with experienced campaigners. It puts him in an interesting spot, where staying relevant and competitive against older, more seasoned competition could leave him in an excellent position in the months and years ahead.

“I feel like that, too,” he said. “These guys have a lot of experience. They’ve fought for big companies before, they’ve fought tough fights, so they’ve been around a long time. For me to be up in that mix so early in my career, I’m only going to go up and get better from here.

“I feel like I’m right up in that mix already. There’s Matt (Mitrione), Sergei (Kharitonov)’s doing a heck of a job right now. He’s on a great winning streak. I know Roy’s on a bit of a losing streak, but he’s still a tough competitor. There’s a lot of tough heavyweights out there, and I’m happy to be in that mix.”

But, of course, the best way to stay relevant is to stay active stay competitive and win fights, and Ayala said he’d like to up his annual average to three fights a year in the coming years as he bids to firmly establish himself as one of the top big men in Bellator.

And, as he turns his attention to facing Minakov on Aug. 24, Ayala said he has the gameplan and the tenacity to come through with flying colors.

“I feel like one of my keys to winning the fight is closing that range, because he likes throwing big shots from the outside,” he explained. “So, closing the distance, roughing him up, playing a little dirty boxing, elbows, that’s what we feel like will work. We’ll come in and out of range, and I’ll get my attacks in.

“It’s gonna be an exciting fight; there’s going to be some big bombs landed. It’s going to be a good show and a real good fight. Everybody stay tuned!”

And, once the mission is accomplished, Ayala said he’d love the opportunity to avenge his 2018 loss to Nelson.

“It’s all up to Bellator, but I would like to fight Roy again,” he admitted. “I feel like it was such a close fight and I performed so well, I feel like going in there a second time I feel like would do even better. But it’s up to Bellator. Whoever they want me to fight, I’ll fight. I’m not one to turn down fights if they make sense.”

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