Fighter of the Week: Joe Soto

Jun 18, 2016; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Joe Soto (blue gloves) reacts during his fight against Chris Beal (not pictured) in a bantamweight bout during UFC Fight Night at TD Place Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Joe “One Bad Mofo” Soto
Pro Record: 23 wins & 5 losses
Association: Nor-Cal Fighting Alliance
Weight Class: Bantamweight/Featherweight

In this week’s addition of FOTW we take a look at Joe Soto, who recently went into “enemy territory” for UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Gastelum in Fortaleza Brazil and came out a decision victor over Brazilian veteran, Rani Yahya, who suffered his first loss in almost four years in what was a back-and-forth fight. Soto’s win gave him a 3-fight win streak after coming off of a 3-fight losing streak that started with a loss to TJ Dillashaw for the UFC Bantamweight title.

Soto comes from humble backgrounds in California where he was the fourth son of a religious family that struggled financially. Growing up Soto would survive gangs, jail, and fighting while finding solace in wrestling, where he would shine at Porterville High School and earn a full ride scholarship to Iowa Central Community College. You might recognize this college by name as it has produced two ex-UFC Champions in Cain Velasquez and Jon Jones, both of whom Soto wrestled with. Soto and Jones were also roommates for their freshman and sophomore years there together.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before… “From college wrestling to the world of MMA”. But, here’s something you haven’t heard too much… Soto would start training for MMA in a friend’s garage and within 3 years of turning pro in 2006, he would compile a 7-0 record and become the first ever Bellator Featherweight Champion vs. Yahir Reyes at Bellator 10 on Jun 5, 2009. But not all would go well for Soto after that. Within a year he would lose his mother, lose his Bellator title in a huge upset, and would have his career in the sport threatened by a detached retina after reporting vision problems after his title loss. But Soto proved his resilience and had a successful surgery and a fight in Tachi Palace Fights in under a year later. The fight would be a submission loss, however, just the second of Soto’s career and second in a row prompting a move down to Bantamweight.

After tearing off a 6-fight win streak to start his Bantamweight move in multiple organizations, Soto would unexpectedly get the biggest shot of his career. With Renan Barao pulling out of his title shot a day before the fight with T.J. Dillashaw due to a weight cutting issue at UFC 177, Soto would be in the right place at the right time and go from his first fight in the UFC being on the prelims to fighting for the UFC Bantamweight title on a days’ notice. And while Soto would eventually lose in the 5th round to the Champ by head kick KO, he proved he belonged in the UFC taking Dillashaw deep into the Championship rounds with solid standup and counter striking.

Soto would lose his next two UFC bouts before stringing a 2-fight win streak together prior to his fight with Rani Yahya. Yahya, a submission expert who was on a 4-fight win streak, surprisingly tried to keep the fight standing for much of the 1st round and strike with Soto. Yahya would eventually attempt a takedown but Soto, who is a blackbelt in his own right in BJJ under Dave Terrell, stuffed it and threatened a guillotine. In the 2nd round an accidental head-butt opened up a massive cut on Soto’s hairline making for a bloody and slippery contest the rest of the way. One that benefitted Soto in keeping the fight standing and Soto was able to dominate a clearly tiring Yahya on the feet and stuff his takedown attempts on his way to a unanimous decision win in what was an early Fight of the Night candidate. Soto, as humble as ever, said “Rani was a really tough opponent” and “Hopefully I go up in the rankings with that win”. If the versatile Soto keeps performing like he did on this night, he’ll do just that.

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