Joe Soto is on top of the world. The 22-year-old undefeated featherweight currently stands at 8-0 after scoring a first round submission victory (gogoplata) over Mike Christensen at Tachi Palace Fights 1 last Thursday. That victory is coming on the heals of Soto's rise from virtually nowhere to claim Bellator Fighting Championship's inaugural featherweight tournament and besting the widely favored Wilson Reis in the process.
Soto now stands on the cusp of world-wide recognition as one of the best 145-pound fighters in all of MMA. His tournament victory coupled with his impressive recent wins and immense talent where enough to land him a place on FiveKnuckles.com's current top-ten featherweight rankings.
Those who know Soto, though, expected nothing less of the former Iowa Central collegiate wrestler when he followed in the footsteps of wrestling teammates and current UFC stars Cain Velasquez and Jon Jones. Jones and Soto were, in fact, so close that they roomed together during their freshman and sophomore years before each went on to pursue their MMA careers.
Soto breaks down his path to the sport, the pressures of being undefeated, gives some insight into the Bellator negotiations and when we may see the fledgling MMA promotion's second season, and much more in our exclusive sit-down.
FiveKnuckles.com: Tell us a bit about your background?
Joe Soto: I grew up in a small town and have three older brothers that got into trouble a lot when I was younger. I did a pretty good job of staying out of trouble and got into wrestling when I was in eighth grade. Eventually in my senior year of high school I started getting more into jiu-jitsu. I went to wrestle in college at Iowa Central and fought MMA once while attending and after that decided to fight full time.
FiveKnuckles.com: So how did you get involved with Bellator?
Joe Soto: I dropped out of school and told everybody back home I was going to start fighting full-time. I have a friend here in [California] that fought and started getting me fights. Another friend (Rich Goodman) helped me get some fights in Palace Fighting Championships and ended up introducing me to my manager. My manager began talking with Bellator and got me into that show. Once I heard about the opportunity, I definitely thought I could win the whole thing and if an opportunity came across, and it was meant to be, I was going to win it. I go in with confidence and believe in my techniques. I enjoy fighting and I go in to win a fight.
FiveKnuckles.com: Well, your undefeated so that mentality definitely seems to be working for you. What style to you prefer in the cage?
Joe Soto: My favorite style is taking it to the floor and ground-and-pound. I definitely love being on top of somebody and reigning down punches. I prefer that the most. If I can get a knockout or submission, I just love to win. I work on ground-and-pound every day and it's my strength. I feel like my jiu-jitsu is there. That's one of my strong points too, but for some reason when I get on top, I just like throwing punches (laughs). I don't know what it is. I know I'm capable of going for submissions and I work on them every day but I always go for the ground-and-pound. It feels a little easier to me. I just got my blue belt a month ago from David Terrell but I roll...