A British mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter has taken the coveted Spanish featherweight title during the recent Ansgar Fighting League championships.
Jay Cucciniello reached the finals, which were held in Las Palmas last Saturday 25 March, after triumphing in a fight in Barcelona last year.
His victory in the Canary Islands has made him the first British fighter to take a major trophy on Spanish soil.
Originally from Peterborough, the 30-year-old has long had an interest in MMA, formerly known as NHB (no holds barred), an aggressive combat sport whose rules allow just about anything in the ring - or the cage.
Jay’s interest in the sport began as a child, weaned on a diet of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal movies.
However, his father died while he was still a child and this affected him considerably and he began to “wander off the tracks a little”.
He eventually joined the army and this helped channel his energy and install some discipline into his life. However, two tours of Iraq and Afghanistan left their mark on Jay and he struggled when trying to return to civilian life on leaving the army.
Jay became attracted to the huge MMA scene that had evolved in the UK and he was soon training in karate, judo, kick boxing and wrestling, but after several fights, he basically threw in the towel.
“When I was a kid I loved watching martial arts movies with my dad and I would practise what I saw on television, but his death affected me badly. I also lost six friends during tours in the Middle East and so when I came out of the army I was bumping off walls,” Jay told SUR in English.
He eventually came to Spain to try to sort out his life, but at first, this did not work either.
He settled in Fuengirola, which he now considers home, but he still had a void in his life and he quickly realised it needed filling.
One of the turning points for Jay was when he met his girlfriend, Taylor, for it was she who helped the unstable fighter get back into the ring.
He began a strict six-days-a-week, four-hours-a-day fitness schedule and set his sights high, for he knew that if he focused and pushed himself enough, he could enter one of the major MMA competitions.
A short while later, with three successful fights under his belt, Jay wanted a chance to compete in the Ansgar Fighting League, Spain’s premier MMA league.
He wanted to dive in head first and have a crack at the title, which was held by three-time champion, Daniel Requeijo, and so he contacted the promoters.
“I didn’t want to tiptoe about; I wanted to make some noise and create a name for myself here in Spain, and that’s exactly what I did,” the politely-spoken fighter declared.
His gentle nature has earned him the nickname, ‘Jay the Mellow Fellow Cucciniello’, although the new Ansgar champion is anything but gentle in the ring.
Even though this is an aggressive sport, Jay has never been badly hurt.
“I have never been seriously damaged in the ring, certainly nothing worse than what Afghanistan did to me,” Jay says with conviction.
He was eventually given the chance to perform in the AFL, but he would first need to fight Kiko Marinho, ranked third in Europe.
Jay believes the promoter intended this contest to be a warm-up for Marinho to have a shot at the title.
His big chance came from a comment made by the promoter, who, believing Jay stood no chance, claimed he would put him up for a title shot if he knocked his opponent out in the first round. Jay did just that.
“The fight was insane. This guy is a good component who has fought all over the world; it was one of the craziest fights I’ve ever had,” Jay says with excitement in his eyes.
Jay was awarded the title of ‘Knockout of the Year’ for this fight, but his heart was still firmly set on the title shot, and this came in March of this year.
He spent the next twelve weeks training for the title fight, drinking five litres of water a day and sticking to a healthy Mediterranean diet.
He was confident that he could take the title, although he did not realise that the championship was to be held on the anniversary of his brother’s death.
Jay’s sibling, who had died tragically young, was also a big fan of the MMA, so this gave Jay an added incentive to win.
His determination and dedication paid off, because Jay knocked Daniel Requeijo out in the third round; taking the belt from the local boy in front of 4,000 people.
He is the featherweight champion of Spain and he now has his sights set on Japan; although for now, he can sit back and wait to see what the promoters send his way.
“I dream deep, my goal now is to fight in Japan. It would be awesome if I could end my career in Japan,” the mellow fellow concluded.