MMA: Joe Soto

Joe Soto gets opportunity of his career

August, 29, 2014
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
SACRAMENTO -- Joe Soto wasn't ready when he got the call that the UFC needed him to step in for Renan Barao against TJ Dillashaw for the bantamweight title on 24 hours' notice.

Like, literally, he wasn't ready. He was stark naked, lying on the floor of his hotel bathroom.

"I had just got done making 136 pounds for my [original] fight," Soto said. "My team told me, 'Dude, the UFC is trying to call you. Better answer before you get cut.'

"The matchmakers said they wanted me to go down to the lobby, that it was an emergency. I run downstairs and they said, 'Barao is injured, you want to take the fight? You want to fight Dillashaw?' I said, 'Yeah, I'll fight him.'"

[+] EnlargeT.J. Dillashaw, Joe Soto
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesFormer Bellator champion Joe Soto, right, will fight for a title in his UFC debut on Saturday against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 177.
Soto (15-2) was already scheduled to fight Anthony Birchak in the second fight of UFC 177, which takes place on Saturday at Sleep Train Arena. He was one of only two 135-pound fighters scheduled to appear on the card other than the main event -- in other words, he was right place, right time.

Hours before the official UFC 177 weigh-in, Barao (32-2) fainted while attempting to cut to 135 pounds. The Brazilian was immediately taken to the hospital and withdrew from the title fight.

Soto agreed to step in without hesitation, prompting a wave of "Who is Joe Soto?" pieces and posts on websites and social media.

The 27-year-old has accumulated a solid resume since his professional debut in 2006. He won the inaugural Bellator MMA featherweight title in 2009, but surrendered it in his first attempted defense to Joe Warren in September 2010.

A former All-American NJCAA collegiate wrestler, Soto is currently on a six-fight win streak and has finished 13 of his 15 career wins.

"It's still surreal a little bit, but I'm a professional," Soto said. "I've been doing this for a long time -- 17 fights, a lot of title fights. I've been in this position before.

"Not this crazy of a position, but this position. When I first got to Bellator, they didn't think I was going to win a title and I did. So, I've won titles where I was not expected to win. Nothing this crazy, though. This never happens."

UFC president Dana White said replacing Barao with Soto was a relatively easy call, even though the former Bellator and Tachi Palace Fights champion has never fought in the UFC before.

"He was the guy with the most experience, he has a great record and he has held a title before," White said. "He was the right guy for the job."

According to Dillashaw (10-2), the two have trained with each other previously, as recently as six weeks ago. Soto fought Terrion Ware at a TPF event on Aug. 7 and attended pro practice at Dillashaw's Team Alpha Male several times in preparation.

Duane Ludwig, Dillashaw's head coach, said he had seen Soto fight before and was in the process of breaking his style down.

"I watched his fight with Joe Warren," Ludwig said. "It's a completely different fight [than Barao], but nobody can beat TJ. His style, timing, accuracy power, thought process -- nobody can beat him right now, period."

That will be the consensus thought heading into Saturday's main event, but if Soto is looking for inspiration, he needs to look no further than across the cage. Dillashaw dominated Barao three months ago in a title fight at UFC 173 in Las Vegas, despite being an overwhelming underdog.

The upset was so significant, the UFC's marketing team employed the slogan, "Never Trust the Odds" ahead of the Barao, Dillashaw rematch. That slogan still applies with Soto.

"Greatness is right there," Soto said. "It's mental. You just have to believe. Look at Dillashaw. He beat Barao. Nobody thought he was going to win, so, don't trust the odds."

White: Barao won't get title fight after this

August, 29, 2014
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
SACRAMENTO -- Renan Barao's path to reclaiming the UFC bantamweight title he lost to TJ Dillashaw earlier this year got significantly longer on Friday.

Barao (32-2) was forced to withdraw from his title rematch against Dillashaw this weekend at UFC 177, when he fainted while attempting to cut weight on Friday. UFC newcomer Joe Soto replaced Barao in the pay-per-view main event.

UFC president Dana White said that kind of thing is, "going to happen" occasionally in mixed martial arts, but said Barao would not keep his place in line at 135 pounds.

"He won't get a title fight after this," White told

Naturally, Dillashaw and his camp agreed with that sentiment. The 28-year-old had already stated he didn't feel like Barao deserved an immediate rematch, considering how dominant of a performance Dillashaw had in the first fight.

An agitated Dillashaw said on Friday he felt the failed weight cut was partially due to the fact he "mentally broke" the Brazilian at UFC 173 in May.

"He hasn't missed weight in any of his fights," Dillashaw said. "I think I mentally broke him and he didn't want to fight me. His coaches wanted the fight more than he did. He should have just done this a couple weeks ago."

Duane Ludwig, Dillashaw's head coach, echoed those statements.

"Renan Barao lost his place in line, for sure," Ludwig said. "I don't know the circumstances about him passing out, but I saw him in the hotel lobby around 11 [a.m. on Friday] and he looked fine.

"I was talking to [Barao coach] Andre Pederneiras and Barao was looking right at us, alert to our conversation, and he looked fine to me. For him to pass out a half hour later is weird."

Eye injury keeps Soto's future cloudy

April, 14, 2011
By Joe Myers/">Archive
Joe SotoZhanna Popova/sherdog.comThings aren't looking as good as they once did for Joe Soto.
There is nothing worse for a mixed martial artist than being forced to sit on the sidelines, which is what former Bellator Fighting Championships featherweight titleholder Joe Soto has to do right now.

“I miss [fighting] a lot,” said Soto, who suffered a detached retina during his second-round knockout loss to Joe Warren at Bellator 27 in September. “It’s really hard not to be able to do what I love in life. It’s like having a blessing taken away from you.”

In the days following the Warren loss, Soto -- a member of the North California Fighting Alliance team -- started to develop black spots in his field of vision, smaller at first but larger as the days went by. After finally relenting and visiting a specialist, he underwent immediate surgery due to the severity of his career-threatening injury.

Recovery from the surgery has been a long process, and the 24-year-old Soto will have to undergo another surgical procedure later this year.

“Immediately after the surgery, it really sucked,” Soto told “I couldn’t lift my head for two weeks after the surgery. I could start looking up some after two weeks, but little things would make me dizzy. I’m not sure how long it took for my vision to get back to normal, but I’ve been working out since January. I’ve been cleared to grapple, but I’m not doing any live sparring.”

Before the stunning knockout at Warren’s hands, Soto had won the first nine fights of his career dating back to July 2006. He made his Bellator debut at the promotion’s inaugural event in April 2009, knocking out Ben Greer in the first round. He followed that win with a unanimous decision victory over EliteXC veteran Wilson Reis at Bellator 6 in May 2009 and submitted Yahir Reyes in the second round at Bellator 10 in June 2009 to win Bellator’s 145-pound championship. Soto, who has eight finishes among his nine wins, followed his title win with a first-round submission of Mike Christensen at Tachi Palace Fights 1 in October 2009 and a technical knockout of Diego Saraiva at Bellator 19 in May 2010.

Nicknamed “The Hammer,” Soto wrestled collegiately at Iowa Central Community College alongside a pair of current UFC champions: heavyweight Cain Velasquez and light heavyweight Jon Jones. His transition to MMA had gone according to script, until the injury. While Soto’s eye has progressed since September’s surgery, a return to competition is still a long way away.

“Eventually, like in September, I’m going to have to have another surgery on my eye,” said Soto. “I was told in February that my retina is still attached and in good shape, but we still have to make sure cataracts don’t develop and everything is OK with my cornea. Hopefully, I can get cleared by my eye doctor in the next month or two.”

Whether or not Soto will fight again remains up in the air, but he does not want for his loss to Warren to be MMA fans’ final image of him.

“Whether I fight again or not is still to be decided, but I think I will,” said Soto. “I want to be out there in the cage doing things. I know I can beat most of the best 145-pounders out there, and it’s tough for me to see them out there and not have a chance to take them on. However, I have to be realistic because I’ve got to heal from these eye surgeries. If I can come through the next surgery fine, I hope to be back by the end of the year.”

Joe Warren