Joe Soto didn’t plan on fighting at UFC Fight Night 98. And when the opportunity to fight arose a week before the event, the bantamweight fighter, initially, didn’t want to change his plans.
He was asked by his manager, Jason House, if he wanted to fight Marco Beltran at the event after fellow bantamweight Marlon Vera — another client of House’s — noticed that Beltran’s original opponent was pulled from the card.
At first, Soto wouldn’t budge.
“[Vera] and my manager talked about it, and they said it would be a good fight for me,” Soto told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “So they called me up and they asked me if I was ready to go. And I told them no.
“I was barely getting over some injuries, and I was just starting to get into some hard training, like being able to roll jiu-jitsu, going pretty hard. I was starting to lose weight already. But I was nowhere near fight-ready.”
It took some effort from both House and Vera to get Soto to give in and agree to the fight, but they were eventually successful.
“And then they kind of convinced me it was a good fight and I should take it,” he said. “When they were finally able to get me to say yeah, they hit up the UFC and said I was ready.”
Although he was in full control of the pen he used to signed his bout agreement with, Soto still felt as if he had to sign the dotted line.
“This one, I didn’t really have a choice — I had to take it,” he said. “I got kids at home, I got a mortgage I gotta pay, and I was running low on money. I was going to get a new contract and everything. And the matchup was good. There were a lot of positives, it wasn’t just like, ‘Oh, take this fight.’ A lot of good things were going to happen if I took it. It was going to help out a lot.”
The fight took place in Mexico City, Mexico, and although he won via first-round submission, it’s one of the toughest places to compete in because of its very high elevation. Over the course of the UFC’s four events in the country, the majority of fighters scheduled for the cards have chosen to arrive weeks in advance to fully acclimate to the high elevation.
Soto wasn’t able to arrive early, as he took the fight as a late replacement. He was at a clear disadvantage in that regard. Yet he was OK with fighting in Mexico on one week’s notice, because as a veteran, he would have known what to do had his fight gone to the later rounds. He planned to adapt as much as possible, and given the situation, make it work as best he could.
“I’ve been in this sport a long time,” he said. “I would’ve had to fight a little bit differently. I would’ve had to pick my shots and take my time and try to control my breathing — that’s what I would’ve done if the fight would’ve kept going. It would’ve been a challenge with the altitude.”
Preparing for the elevation was far from Soto’s biggest concern.
When he agreed to fight on seven day’s notice, he was 162 pounds. He agreed to fight at a catchweight of 140 pounds; he would have to cut five less pounds than usual, but, in seven days, that was still a lot. He would have a long, long way to go and lots of work ahead of him.
He ended up making weight, but it wasn’t easy.
“That was probably the toughest cut of my life,” Soto admitted.
“I have two kids at home, and I was thinking about them the whole time,” he said when asked how he overcame the adversity. “But not only that — if I was by myself, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I had coach Oyama, I had my manager, Jason House, I had Chito Vera: them three were like a team. Waking me up and putting me in the sauna, because I was almost falling asleep; I was so tired, because I didn’t sleep the night before, because I was thirsty. They were really pushing me. Without them, I would’ve quit a long time ago. It was tough. It was really hard.”
Soto would have to seriously sit down and think about it if ever asked to cut that much weight in that short of a time period again.
“I don’t know if I would (do it again),” he said. “It depends. If the money’s right, [maybe]. It’s all about supporting my family.”
“But you can’t keep doing that to your body. My body wasn’t ready for that — I shocked it pretty good. I was able to do it because of all the years of wrestling. My body’s kind of familiar with that. But that was pretty bad.”
“It’d be a big decision. It depends on what the matchup was, what the opportunity was, where the fight was, and what my circumstances with money (were at the time).”
All of that said, the 29-year-old doesn’t regret signing the dotted line one bit. He certainly took away a lot from the experience.
“Hell no,” he said. “It was a good choice, a good experience to go through all that and still get the win. Dealing with all those challenges will make me a tougher fighter in the future, especially when I get eight weeks to train — then I’ll be really ready.”