Undefeated bantamweight fighter Alex Soto is a fighter to watch.
This Friday, June 24th, Soto will be making his Japanese debut against 13-4 veteran Japanese fighter Seiji Akao on a stacked DEEP 54 card.
I had to chance to catch up with Soto as he talks about the struggle of coming up in the sport of MMA, fighting in Japan, training with Trevor Witman and Greg Jackson, and Mexican MMA.....
I have seen your height listed at 5'6'' and 5'9''. What is accurate?
You have fought at featherweight and at bantamweight. Now at bantamweight, do you have to cut much weight?
I usually train around 150 lbs., so my natural weight class is 135 lbs.
I'm too small for featherweight and a little bit big for bantamweight. It's something you have to get used to.
What are you doing to prepare for fighting in Japan?
Nothing different. We're expecting a good fight from this guy, I'm fighting Seiji Akao. He's a tough opponent man. There's no difference from getting punched in the face in Mexico or in the US, it's the same punch that happens in Japan too.
Are you comfortable with hostile crowds, have you fought in front of a hostile crowd before?
I have experienced hostile crowds before. When I fought in Mexico I fought against one of the guys that is famous down there and there was a bit of a hostile crowd. But that fight ended up going the distance and it was a really good fight and the crowd ended up liking the both of us, so I got a lot of respect for that crowd.
But I keep hearing that in Japan it's a lot different.
I've heard that Japanese crowds are more respectful.
It's just that it's a different culture. It's a different view; a different type of audience. That's my understanding so far, but I haven't fought there yet.
But that's what I expect, I keep hearing that from fighters that have fought down there, that it's very quiet, you know, and you can hear the breathing and hear the coaches talking and you can really hear the punches. It's going to be interesting.
I know you train out of San Diego but I also heard that Trevor Wittman out of Colorado has had some complimentary things to say about you.
I went up to Denver. I've gone there twice and I've spent a couple weeks up there and it's just been great. I got to train with Grudge Training Center in Denver and we actually took a road trip and headed down to New Mexico and also got to train with Greg Jackson's team. Also great bunch of guys. But the majority of my training has been down here in San Diego training under Manolo Hernandez who also trains Liz Carmouche from Strikeforce.
Some of biggest names in the sport are up there in Colorado. Did they inspire you or do you look up to any of them in particular?
Those guys have been awesome. I look up to every single one of those fighters. They have Nate Marquardt over there. Brenand Schaub. I got to meet those guys and a lot of the lighter weight classes too. It was just great, everyone in the sport is very professional and all those guys are really cool man.
You have an interesting story. Can you tell us a little bit about immigrating from Mexico and joining the armed forces?
We're an immigrant family. I grew up in Tijuana which is not that far, obviously, from San Diego. It was , you know, tough times in Mexico so my family had to pack up their stuff and come to the US with their pocket full of hopes and a handful of dreams.
I've got to give it all to my parents- they worked really hard to make sure we had a good education and to provide for us to be able to succeed. I come from a big family. Five of us kids and my two parents, but we made it through and now we're all professionals in our own way. My oldest brother is a writer, my other brother is a violinist, my [other] brother is extreme and does professional BMX for a living. So we have done what we need to do to succeed and acclimate in the US.
How about joining the army? I know many MMA fighters have said that the armed forces has molded their character and prepared them for more than anything they could ever experience in the cage.
Well the reason I joined is because I was 18 years old and 9/11 had just happened. I felt not only a sense of duty for living here in this country but also to stand up for what I believe was right and do my part and represent my family and do it for my family. Everybody has [somebody] that served this country so everybody does their part and I did it for my family and I did my part.
I see that you are also a dolphin trainer for the Navy?
I have a great job too. After serving in the Army I became a SeaWorld diver, scrubing the pens and taking care of the facilities at SeaWorld. I ended up going into the training department and ended up being able to be a dolphin trainer at SeaWorld. With my military background and my diving experience and being able to train dolphins, it ended up being a perfect fit for the Navy and their Marine Animal Program.
How do you navigate two careers? Could we see you leave MMA?
The reason I got into MMA is because you only get one chance in a lifetime to do something like this. I always believed I could be good at this. I believed I could go very far in this sport. I made a choice to get into MMA and really pursue this career. But I also do my work you know. I gotta pay my bills and stuff. Obviously starting off in MMA it doesn't pay very much but it's something that you have a passion for and you really have to go for it and chase your dreams.
Animals—I've always loved animals that's why I'm in the industry of training animals. I've always been taking care of them. A lot of people have a very special connection with animals—so it's also a very special job. It's definitely a tough choice. If my career in MMA continues to go, I'll have to make a choice. Right now it's a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, and you know things don't come easy unless you work very hard at them.
As an undefeated fighter, you have yet to experience your first loss. How are you psychologically prepared for potentially getting that first loss eventually?
It'll come. I never think of it in the way that I'm undefeated. I'm always thinking one fight at a time.
Whatever happened in the past is in the past. Right now it's Seiji Akao. That's all I think about. The losses or a perfect record, it really doesn't have a lot of meaning behind it because I just take one fight at a time. Even if the performance wasn't good, I learn from every single one of my fights.
As your career keeps blossoming and you get opportunities, how do you see yourself stack up with some of the higher ranked bantamweights in the world?
I consider myself a fighter. Those are the things that will come. Which ever promotion is put in front of me I would go and fight.
That aside, I strongly believe in my coaching staff and my team and we believe that we can hang in their with those guys and be just as competitive as any one of those guys.
How would you describe your fighting style?
It really has evolved now where a lot of different fighters that are coming up are learning the arts of the martial arts, the mixed aspect of it. I think I'm one of those guys that has to be well rounded- good on the ground, good on the stand-up, and good wrestling skills. Those are the ones that are succeeding, at least right now. That's what you see right now. I like to say that I am a well rounded fighter. I don't really have particular a spot where I could classify myself as a wrestler or anything like that.
Lastly, what is your perception of Mexican fighters and how the culture in Mexican MMA is coming along?
I've competed down in Mexico so I have a good idea of what's out there in Mexico, and tough guys are coming out, but haven't had the opportunity to showcase it. But the league that I was fighting for, they're doing a lot of promotions now and they're starting to air across the country all the fights, and you know, it's finally picking up steam. A lot of guys that are down in Mexico training are really good guys. It's definitely happening where you're going to see a lot of tough Mexican fighters soon.
Thank you very much for your time. Any shout-outs?
I have to thank my wife for dealing with this—this is a family affair where everyone puts their sacrifices in it.
Also San Diego Combat Academy, my management company Alchemist, everybody from Grudge that's been believing in me as well. And also my sponsor Ranger Up and thanks to everyone that supports me.
-Best of luck to Alex in his Japanese debut on the 24th. Check out his highlight video on YouTube here.