The UFC is giving a lot of love to current and former title holders in outside organizations of late. Half of their ten signings so far this month have been past or current champions in smaller organizations. Of course, the bulk of that is right here with three new fighters added, and every one of them having held a belt in the not too distant past. The signings of Joe Soto and Anthony Birchak were confirmed by the UFC earlier this week, with the addition of both fighter's profiles to the promotion's website. They have been tabbed for a short notice bout against one another at UFC 177. Paul Felder confirmed his signing to the UFC via Facebook. He reports that he will make his debut on the Halifax card, and Sherdog is reporting that his opponent will be Justin Saggo.
Who is Joe Soto?
Bellator fans will remember him as the promotion's first ever champion. So, it's a little surprising to hear that Joe Soto is still only 27 and holds an impressive 15-2 record. He trains out of the NorCal Fighting Alliance where he's the head wrestling coach and works alongside Nate Loughran and David Mitchell. He has wins over WEC vet Chad George, UFC vet Diego Saraiva, and current UFC flyweight Wilson Reis, among many others. All told, he's put together an excellent record against seasoned veterans and promising up and coming fighters. Prior to his MMA career, Soto was a two time NJCAA All-American, and with 8 years of pro-fighting experience under his belt, he's primed to jump into deeper waters with the UFC.
What you should expect:
Soto tends to be patient and defensive when standing. He has a little bit of a bad habit of looking to shell and slip strikes on the inside, which can cause him to get cracked around his guard. He releases well off his guard, with single hooks, but his lack of output and willingness to take strikes on his arms is problematic. His real emphasis standing appears to be drawing his opponent forward, so he can shoot in for the double leg under his strikes. Soto has a good quick shot and great transition grappling. That's really where he makes his mark in a fight, through a strong varied arsenal of takedowns and grappling dominance. He has put together some very good ground and pound as well, and postures extremely well to break down the defensive guard while striking.
To get us better acquainted, here's his last fight against Terrion Ware:
Who is Anthony Birchak?
The recently released MFC champion will head to the UFC at 28-years of age and with a record of 11-1. He trains out of Rise Combat Sports alongside Chis Cariaso. He has wins over UFC flyweight Ryan Benoit, and regional prospects Matt Leyva and Roman Salazar. His only loss comes to unheralded regional veteran and Nova Uniao fighter Jorge Clay. Pre-MMA he was a DII all-american in Greco-Roman and apparently has been working on his Jiu Jitsu and is currently a purple belt. He's been fighting since 2009, and at the time of his release was considered to be the best prospect in MFC.
What you should expect:
Birchak tends to fight with pure aggression in the cage, wasting little time to move from range into the clinch. He has good setups for his clinch entries, often coming behind lunging hooks and uppercuts. They're not the safest strikes, but serve mostly as a distraction to get his opponent defending so he can grab an over-under. From there Birchak puts his Greco to good use with grinding control in searching for takedown opportunities. His takedown game is interestingly varied, as he mixes nicely between freestyle and greco while searching for trip, throw and shot opportunities. Once on top he's very consistent in his pressure and aggression looking for any possible submissions and strikes. He's proven himself to be a quality finisher both in submissions and TKOs.
To get us better acquainted, here's his last fight, against Tito Jones:
What this means for their debut:
When Birchak faces Soto it'll be a clear battle of very similarly skilled and styled fighters. Both men come from an amateur wrestling background, both men have developed aggressive grappling games, and both men have some technical gaps in their striking. Unfortunately for Joe Soto, his gaps may be just a little larger. While Birchak isn't a great striker, he makes up for his deficiencies in technique with a wealth of aggression and pressure. Soto, on the other hand, tends to shell up and try and ride out the storm. Against one dimensional fighters, this has allowed him to get in on takedowns. Against someone like Birchak, who has the skill and athleticism to compete with Soto in the clinch and on the ground, it could just mean Joe Soto taking a lot of hard shots. This could be a close fight, and it may turn into a standup battle, but I think it's a fight Birchak is primed to win.
Who is Paul Felder?
The Cage Fury Fighting Championship lightweight champion comes to the UFC with a 8-0 undefeated record. The 29-year old trains out of the Renzo Gracie Philadelphia alongside prospect Jonavin Webb and under the tutelage of former Pride fighter Daniel Gracie. He has notable wins over TUF Contestant Julian Lane and Strikeforce vet Marc Stevens. Otherwise, his resume is fairly short on notable opposition, with a lot of his competition trending toward the "green" side. Pre-MMA, Felder has a background as a karateka and taekwondo practitioner.
What you should expect:
Felder relies on a kick heavy offense from the outside, with an array of side kicks and spinning kicks as well as more traditional MMA striking techniques. His hands are definitely lagging behind his feet, he often comes in wide with single strikes and doesn't show many signs of being a great combination boxer. However, when he gets inside, Felder is a pretty strong clinch fighter. He mixes between knees and elbows coming in at different angles and working an aggressive pace. He's shown some signs of a transitional grappling game to go with his striking, but generally hasn't looked terribly polished working for takedowns or looking for submissions. He's only been fighting since 2011, so he's certainly got time to improve, but at the moment his skill set looks fairly strike focused.
What this means for his debut:
Like Fedler, Saggo is a kicker from the outside with limited punching arsenal. He tends to work at a much less aggressive pace at range, but given Felder's lack of an inside boxing game, that's not necessarily a huge disadvantage here. Felder is almost certainly the better clinch fighter, but his lack of takedowns and grappling are troubling. Felder's shown decent takedown defense, but Saggo changes his angles and setups nicely and has a very strong positional grappling game. If Felder can keep the fight standing he may be able to stay ahead for the decision, or even get the TKO. But, it seems likely that Saggo will get him down, and probably be the much stronger grappler.