On Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, Billy Ayash (6-0) will return to the sport of mixed martial arts after having been out of competition for nearly five years.
Ayash witnessed great success during his early years in MMA, but the ups and downs of life took a toll on his career, ultimately resulting in his departure from the sport.
In a recent interview with Bleacher Report, Ayash discussed and shared his rocky journey and how he first became involved in the sport he's come to deeply love.
"I was born into a fairly wealthy family but unfortunately it wasn't in the best of towns," Ayash said. "Growing up I was the skinny kid who couldn't get a date to save his life. I was always being bullied by those bigger than me. One day my mom took me to tae kwon do lessons at the age of 7.
"I really began to fall in love with the sport and I was really out to earn a little respect. It was a slap in the face to the bullies when I began to succeed."
Ayash got a little respect and more when he found himself standing among one of the greatest martial artists of all time in Royce Gracie. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend had traveled to see Ayash in Charleston, West Virginia.
"After meeting Butch Hiles, one of the best trainers in the business, I was introduced to Royce Gracie when I was just 20 years old," Ayash said.
"He told me that he thought I was very strong, athletic and that I should give the sport a shot. After that I got to train with Rich Franklin. The next thing I know I was scheduled for my first fight and I was scared to death."
Ayash had no reason to be scared to death as he was declared victorious in a matter of 18 seconds as he defeated Ryan Conway by way of knockout.
It was a surreal moment in Ayash's life as he quickly became recognized as an up-and-coming force. Ayash would go on to win his next five fights all by first-round finishes.
However, Ayash's fame and fortune would end there as life began to get the best of him.
"I started getting the reputation for first-round finishes," he said. "One day I opened my eyes and I was holding the 'King of the Cage' title. Everything happened way too fast and that's when I walked away from it."
Ayash's early life is now in the rear-view mirror as he has his sights set on his upcoming bout with J.A. Dudley at VFL 34 on Jan. 7.
"I'm looking forward to my fight with Dudley," Ayash said. "He's fought some quality people and he's fought in Bellator. I got a lot to lose and not a lot to gain. He's a big guy and likes to push forward and that's what I like to do. Even though I took this fight on three week's notice I'm ready to get back in there."
While Ayash will be squaring off with an opponent with the record of 4-8, he's certainly not looking past the skills of Dudley.
"He's naturally a bigger individual and I've been trying to gain weight as fast as possible," Ayash said. "I'm hoping to come into this fight around 240 pounds. He's suppose to be coming in fairly heavy from what I'm told. I don't care if the guy is 0-25, I have respect for anyone who has the balls and guts to come into the cage and fight."
"I want to keep it standing up and use my speed and hands. If he tries exchanging leg kicks he won't walk out of the fight" said Ayash. "It's hard to finish him but I'll use my speed to get away from his strengths."
Ayash believes many of Dudley's past opponents were intimidated by his rather large frame. In result, instead of setting the pace of the fight, they sat back and reacted upon Dudley's movements. Ayash shared this isn't something he won't do when action begins on Jan. 7.
"I like what Chael Sonnen did when he went after Anderson Silva and tried ripping his head off. That's what I want to do," said Ayash. "I respect him but my goal is to retire him.
"I'm going to teach him a lesson and then shake his hand."
A win over Dudley will be Ayash's first victory in nearly five years, keeping his unbeaten streak alive and well at seven consecutive fights.
At 31 years of age, Ayash would like to make one last run toward the premier stage of MMA, often referred to as the UFC.
"As long as everything goes well," he said. "God willing, I think I have a very good chance to get into the UFC. They love guys who are kind of big and muscular but they love even more guys who finish their fights, especially in the first round."
"Why not go after it?" Ayash asked. "I fight like Wanderlei and hit like Tyson."
Ayash is well aware that he's very fortunate to have a second shot, not only in MMA but life in general. Ayash shared the story of how a man by the name of Michael Ferguson changed his life.
"I met Michael Ferguson through Rich Franklin," Ayash said. "He's actually the owner of the Power Station Gym located in Middletown, Ohio."
"Years after I won the title, I fell flat on my face. A buddy of mine game me a ride to Mr. Ferguson's doorstep at midnight one night."
Ayash was at the lowest point of his life and had no one to turn to. However, that all changed when Ferguson provided him with a place to stay.
"He lives inside the gym with his pit-bull and it's almost like something out of a Rocky movie. He's the toughest-minded individual I've ever met. He allowed me to sleep there and everyday I opened the gym and I cleaned it," Ayash said.
"He'd warm up a chicken breast and potatoes and we'd split it. He'd split all his food in half and he'd share it with me. This whole time I was also learning more and more about the sport."
Ayash had many things to say regarding his thankfulness toward Ferguson but summed it up with a few short words.
"He's the reason I'm still alive," Ayash said. "He saved my life."
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