BR Exclusive Interview with UFC 139 Debutant Alex Soto

Jonathan ShragerCorrespondent INovember 16, 2011

Alex as UWCM champion over in Mexico
Alex as UWCM champion over in Mexico

JS: Hi Alex, thanks for taking the time to talk today. I couldn’t seem to locate a nickname for you online. Do you have one? If so, is it awarded or self-entitled, and can you elaborate upon its significance?

AS: Yes, my nickname is “extremo," “extreme” in Spanish. My gym awarded me that nickname, my team members and my coach because I’m always doing extreme things, as are my family. I used to jump out of planes in the military, I was deployed in Afghanistan, and now I train dolphins for a living for the US Navy. I train the dolphins full-time, that’s my primary job. It pays my bills. Now that I’ve got a shot in the UFC, let’s see what happens. Working with animals is special, and something I’ve wanted to do since being a kid, but fighting is my passion and I believe I can go far. 

JS: Okay, so given your penchant for extreme activities and situations, do you feel that MMA was the natural progression for you following your military service?

AS: Yes, absolutely. Even during my time in the military, I would box with other soldiers and fare very well, so martial arts came naturally to me. On top of that, it’s a great sport with which I’ve fallen in love.

JS: Having faced life-threatening situations, does stepping into the cage seem a comparatively less daunting prospect?

AS:  Well, in Afghanistan, you didn’t necessarily know who your enemy was. The enemy could have been all over the place. In those situations, you have your military brothers at your side to support you. In a cage, at least you know who you’re fighting, who’s standing in front of you the entire time. So there are certainly differences. But there are also similarities. You’re out there exposed, and it’s a battle, it’s life or death.

JS: You were drafted in to feature on UFC 139 against Michael McDonald once Johnny Eduardo pulled out injured. Were you signed to the UFC anyway?

AS: It was a last-minute opportunity that presented itself. The UFC made the call, they needed a fighter to face Michael McDonald, who is a very, very tough opponent. Without hesitation I accepted. My coach and my management company also played a big part in securing me this great opportunity.

I’m excited about the fight. I think it’s going to be an awesome spectacle, a battle between two bantamweights. I’m hoping for a brawl. It’s such a stacked card, with numerous legends and ex-champions featuring, so I think the calibre of our fight will fit in with the rest of this quality event.

JS: I think it’s fair to say that you’re a relatively inexperienced mixed martial artist, having been competing professionally for just two years. Do you feel ready for this opportunity?

AS: In life, whenever somebody presents an opportunity, you take it and you make the most of it. That’s exactly what I plan on doing. I’ve never been more ready for a fight in the UFC as I am now.

JS: Great. And do you believe you are ready to make a legitimate run at the Bantamweight strap?

Baptism of Fire...Soto is welcomed to the UFC by talented young upstart Michael McDonald
Baptism of Fire...Soto is welcomed to the UFC by talented young upstart Michael McDonald

AS: Absolutely. I’ve always believed that I could hang with these guys and that I could be the champion one day. Not only do I have an opportunity to fight in the UFC, but I also have an opportunity to fight someone in Michael McDonald who is making a lot of noise within the bantamweight division. If I get through McDonald, it catapults me towards the upper tier of the division. I’m willing to fight anyone the UFC throws my way.

JS: You came up slightly short in your bid to make it onto TUF 14. In hindsight, given that you’ve now made it into the UFC directly, was this a blessing in disguise?

AS: Yeah absolutely. Not being in “The Ultimate Fighter” didn’t break my heart. I accepted it, and I was moving on ready to take on other fights. That’s what it’s all about, keep fighting until the UFC gives you the call. If you stay the course, and continue to believe that you’re going to get there, you can achieve anything. That’s exactly what happened. I never lost faith.

JS: Obviously, this is the big leagues, and you’ll be fighting in front of thousands of eyes live, and millions worldwide. What’s the biggest crowd you’ve fought in front of thus far in your career?

AS: In Mexico, I headlined some shows defending my title at UWCM. It gets packed, around 5 or 6 thousand people in the crowd. But never in the category of the UFC. I think I’ll adapt just fine to the magnitude of the UFC. The punches are the same, no matter who is there to watch it.

A snapshot of Soto's explosive athleticism captured whilst up at Grudge Training Centre
A snapshot of Soto's explosive athleticism captured whilst up at Grudge Training Centre

JS: Was becoming part of the Alchemist MMA family a natural choice for you given the management company’s multiple ties to the US Army, and obviously your involvement with the military?

AS: Yes, absolutely. Being ex-military is something we are all proud of. And furthermore, ex-military men are always trying to help each other out. The way I found out about Lex McMahon (President of Alchemist Management) was through the apparel brand “Ranger Up”, which is one of my sponsors. Ranger Up contacted Lex on my behalf and put us in contact. Lex was able to sign me, he’s been my manager for 18 months now and it’s been a wonderful experience.

JS: Also, the UFC strongly supports the US military, in particular through events such as “Fight for the Troops." Looking ahead, is featuring on one of these cards something which potentially interests you?

AS: Absolutely, I always want to give back in whatever way possible. I’d love to be a part of something like that. I understand what the troops are going through when they’re deployed abroad, away from their families. It’s a tough situation, and I know where they’re at because I’ve been in their shoes. A lot of the troops are young kids also. When I was in Afghanistan, Robin Williams came out to do a stand-up comedy show, which was incredibly funny, and also touching that he came out of his way to entertain us. That’s special.

JS: Okay, and Alchemist is also renowned for the involvement of CEO, MC Hammer.

AS: I mainly deal with Lex, as he’s more involved with the daily needs of the fighters. But Hammer and I have been in contact through Twitter and email. Hammer carries a massive marketing value. He understands the fight business, having managed Evander Holyfield back in the day. I remember growing up in Mexico, rapping along to MC Hammer songs. He’s a huge cultural icon and a part of my childhood in Mexico.

JS: I recently interviewed Lex, and I joked with him about one of the Alchemist fighters entering the Octagon to “Can’t Touch This” in order to pay homage to the Alchemist CEO.

AS: Hahaha. I think that would be awesome. To have Hammer in my corner and to walk out to one of his songs. It would certainly add to the show. I’m not sure if Hammer is in attendance on Saturday, I’ll have to ask Lex.

JS: Are you in contact with any of the other high-profile fighters that occupy the impressive Alchemist roster?

AS: Ah, yes. I’ve been up to Denver, Colorado to train with the Grudge team. The Grudge training centre is ran by the awesome Trevor Wittman, and I got to train and meet a lot of the Alchemist guys up there, including Brendan Schaub. Nate Marquardt also called me prior to my June fight in Japan, and he gave me some great advice about what to expect out there, particularly in regards to the food and jetlag. So, it’s been pretty special to draw upon the advice of some very experienced fighters who are part of the same management team. It’s a useful tool at my disposal.

JS: Okay, moving onto your fighting style, in order to introduce you to those who may not yet be familiar with you. Your record boasts both KOs and submissions. Would you label yourself as predominantly a striker or grappler? Or are you well-versed in all facets of the game?

AS: I’m a well-rounded fighter. I like to say that I can do everything. And at this level of the game, you have to be able to do everything. Mixed Martial Arts is a new martial art in itself. Before I came to mixed martial arts, I had done some boxing and kickboxing in the army, but I didn’t have a solid background. Everything has flown naturally for me. I have a natural talent for fighting, and that inspired me to take it more seriously and perfect my craft. I think I typify the modern mixed martial artist, who begins by learning all elements of the game simultaneously rather than training one art as a base.

JS: Absolutely, Dana White talks about the influx of this type of mixed martial artist. A lot of your fights have been concluded in Round 1…are you generally an explosive fighter, seeking the early finish?

AS: Yes, that’s exactly my fighting style. I categorize myself as explosive and chaotic. Purposeful accidents. It’s going to be an exciting, non-stop fight, because both Michael and I have great cardio.

JS: Haha, kind of like “organised chaos.” Where do you currently train?

AS: San Diego Combat Academy with Team Hurricane Awesome. The gym has produced one of the top-ranked female fighters in Liz Carmouche. The UFC fighter Walel Watson also trains out of there. It’s a great gym.

JS: Do you ever spar with Liz?

AS: Liz is a great sparring partner, she’s super tough. You can’t go easy on Liz during sparring, because she will knock you out. You have to go hard. I’ve seen guys come to the gym and have their ass handed to them by Liz, and after that, you never see them again. 

JS: Haha. Have you been impressed with the footage you’ve watched on McDonald?

AS: I’m very impressed with McDonald. He seems like a good guy with a good head on his shoulders. But he has everything to lose in this fight and I’m going to take advantage of that situation. I’m going to be trying to finish this fight the entire time. Michael McDonald isn’t going to be the man to end my undefeated record. I’ve never been so confident heading into a fight. This is my fantastic opportunity, and I have nothing to lose.

JS: Does his experience advantage, in terms of quantity of fights, calibre of opponent, and experience under the Zuffa banner, render him the favourite heading into this fight?

AS: It’s certainly true that he has an experience advantage over me. He’s a young fighter, and I don’t know where his head is at mentally. Really what it boils down to is when you’re getting punched in the head, experience doesn’t matter. We are both well-rounded fighters so this fight is likely to play out all over the place.

JS: Okay, have a good final week of preparation and many thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

AS: It was a pleasure man, I appreciate it.

Follow Alex on Twitter @sotomma

Follow me on Twitter @jonathanshrager