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Rising bantamweight Alex Soto talks life’s “crazy ride” and fulfilling a dream in Japan

27-year old Alex Soto does not have a nickname yet but if he chooses one he may want to consider “The Perfect Storm” given the unique path his life has taken towards what seems to be an eventual spot among the top bantamweights in Mixed Martial Arts. The latest stop in the 6-0 Soto’s journey comes this Friday against Seiji Akao as part of the DEEP organization’s “54 Impact” event in Tokyo and also happens to mark his Japanese debut.

Competing in the Far East is but one of the many dreams Soto has seem come to fruition in his life, an existence he admits could have been drastically different without some tough decisions, a bit of luck, and possibly even the influence of fate for those who believe in such things.

Soto took some time to speak with Five Ounces of Pain earlier this week and revealed how the puzzle pieces of his life have come together to create the picture of a champion, not only in the sport of MMA but life as well.

Born in Mexico, Soto’s family immigrated to the United States in the 90s though his birthplace would ultimately still play a strong role in his decision to become a professional fighter.

“I was born in Tijuana and raised there until I was about 13 years old,” Soto explained. Then due to some hard times with my family – my dad lost his job – we came over to the U.S. to look for better opportunities.”

It’s an important moment Soto often considers when reflecting on his current circumstances.

“It’s a question that I’m always thinking about, like, ‘What would have happened if we’d never moved to the U.S.’ Who knows? I’ve always been very adventurous so the military probably would have caught my eye. I don’t know. It’s a tough question to answer because it’s Mexico and so things are different. Who knows what would have happened.”

After 9/11 Soto turned to the military where he aspired to serve in Afghanistan as part of the Army’s 25th Infantry Division. It was there he encountered his first taste of training in a facet of MMA along with fellow troops thanks to the need to keep themselves entertained and in shape.

“I was in the military until 2005 when I got introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A couple of my friends got together while deployed in Afghanistan and we had a lot of down time, so my buddy ended up buying one of the Gracie instructional videos they had. So we’d go over them, practice, and free roll. It was a lot of fun. That’s kind of how it started.”

After returning stateside his focus went back to everyday life until economic sense and a bit of chance sent him to Tijuana in hopes of escaping the rapidly increasing price of fuel in California.

“I kind of went dormant when I got out of the military but I still had that urge to compete. I got back and gas prices got ridiculously high…in San Diego it got up to almost $4.50 a gallon…so I would go down to Tijuana and start filling up on gas because it was only like a $1.80-$2.00. While I was down there I wanted to check out a MMA gym my brother told me about, who at the time lived down there too, and the next thing I knew I was training there full time.”

However, with the continuous travel involved and the amount of time he was spending in Mexico a new problem sprung up though one with a solution that’s paid off to say the least.

“But then the gas advantage wasn’t paying off anymore because I was going across the border every night, so I ended up coming to San Diego Combat Academy and I’ve been with these guys ever since,” he explained.

Before long Soto was fighting on local cards including a recent run in Tijuana-based promotion UCW where he’s had his hands raised a trio of times and won, plus defended, the company’s bantamweight title.

“They have a big dome where they have shows,” Soto expounded on his experience fighting in town his family’s roots are planted in. “Crowds there fill up to like 5,000 people. A lot of the smaller venues around here in San Diego don’t even pack in that many. (Mexico) was definitely a great place to start but I’ve had to let it go now. I’m off to Japan, hopefully picking up some good wins, and furthering my career.”

On the subject of his bout at DEEP 54, Soto expanded upon his expectations of Akao and how special a feeling it is to know he’ll be fighting in one of the birthplaces of MMA.

“I saw a little bit of video on (Akao) and stuff he does but it’s kind of old video and not something you can rely on much,” Soto started. “But he’s a tough guy…a really, really tough guy. He’s got some wrestling…I guess he wrestled in high school, and he goes to decisions a lot which shows you he’s a tough guy to put away. I’m hoping to finish the fight but we’ll see what happens. I honestly think our styles match very well for a very entertaining fight. That’s what I’m hoping for – a good fight that’s gonna be a back and forth battle.”

As far as stepping foot in the historic Korakeun Hall, Soto enthusiastically responded, “It’s a dream come true. Everything happens for a reason. I had a dream since before I even started training that I could go as far as I want to. Even my coach told me the second I joined my team that it was up to us to take it as far as we think we can. And Japan was positively a dream of mine. I’m ready to take it to this guy. I’m excited! It’s gonna be an excellent fight.”

While he may be eager to mix it up with Akao at the event, the end result isn’t as important to him as meeting his own expectations rather than those of others who only see his perfect record or read comments such as Grudge MMA trainer Trevor Wittman’s who recently called Soto a “prodigy”.

“I don’t feel that pressure. The only pressure I give myself is to perform well. That’s the only pressure I put on myself and that’s always been important to me,” Soto stated.

Once the well-rounded 135er concludes his business in the Land of the Rising Sun, Soto will head back to his job as a dolphin trainer for the Navy – another venture he feels fate has delivered him.

“My military experience got me into scuba diving because I was stationed in Hawaii for three years. So I did a lot of scuba diving out there. When I got out I wanted to still scuba dive, so I went knocking on Sea World’s door to see if they were hiring for any scuba divers and sure enough they were. I found a really awesome job scuba diving. Easily one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had.”

From there, Soto happened to land himself a gig in a new department thanks to, as he openly describes it, forces outside his control.

“Then I ended up transferring to the animal training department where I trained dolphins and that was just pure luck. I just went in there – they had open tryouts and interviews – and I went through all of them and did well. And I got the job luckily…just pure luck.”

“The next thing you know I had military experience, diving experience, and animal training experience,” Soto continued. “It was perfect for the Naval Marine Animal Program and that’s where I am now. It’s a great job and I have lots of fun with a bunch of great guys. Right now I’m doing that and fighting and having a great time.”

“It’s kind of been a crazy ride,” he humbly concluded. “I’ve always been the kind of guy who follows my dreams no matter what it is. One of them was to serve in the military after 9/11 and fight in Afghanistan. Luckily I got picked to go. It all just molded together to make a perfect career where I ended up.”

In closing, Soto thanked a number of the people important to him, saying, “First of all, I always thank my wife, Joy, for supporting me throughout this stuff. My gym, San Diego Combat Academy, and my sponsors Ranger Up and Guard Your Grill. And everybody from Team Hurricane Awesome and Alchemist Management. I just want to thank everybody for helping me out and training me, getting me ready for Japan,” before offering what could easily be seen as an understatement from those outside the box.

“It’s been an awesome ride.”

Soto’s six wins have come since his debut a little less than two years ago and include three submissions and a pair of strike-based victories. Four of his finishes have come in the first round. His upcoming opponent, Akao, is 13-4 with ten decision wins under he belt.

PHOTO CREDIT – ALCHEMIST MMA

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