by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
When the top featherweights in the world are listed names like Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber, Manny Gamburyan, and Mike Brown immediately come to mind. What about Joe Soto?
Who is Joe Soto? He’s an undefeated featherweight phenom who holds the Bellator 145-pound title. He defeated a tournament field last year to win the belt, while seemingly slipping under everyone’s radars despite being talented enough to hang with any fighter in the world.
Training under former UFC middleweight David Terrell, Soto has quietly become a force in the featherweight class, but with all the attention on the fighters in the WEC and in Japan, does it bother him that his name isn’t mentioned along those same lines?
“Everybody wants to be noticed for what they do,” Soto told MMAWeekly Radio. “It kind of bugs me, but it motivates me to work harder, get recognized, fight better, try to get some attention on me and my gym up here in North Cal. It motivates me to be the best.”
After winning the Bellator tournament last year, Soto was forced into some downtime waiting for the promotion to begin its second season. They allowed him to go fight for Tachi Palace Fighting to keep the rust off. In that one fight back, Soto pulled off a gogo plata submission, one of the rarest moves in the game, and then went back to the gym thirsty to learn more.
This Thursday, Soto returns to the Bellator cage for a super fight against former UFC lightweight Diego Saraiva, who is making his debut for the promotion on a six-fight winning streak. The bout, while touted as a super fight, it is non-title affair.
The champion has no say in the matter, but says if he somehow loses the fight, he won’t feel like the belt is his anymore.
“I don’t have no control over that. If it was up to me it would probably be a title fight or whatever,” Soto said. “I don’t really care. If I was to lose, I don’t think I will, but if I was to lose, I would feel like I don’t deserve that belt.”
The challenge ahead is of course another mountain to climb, as Saraiva is an impossibly tough fighter to finish, considering that in his 20-plus professional fights he’s never been taken out before the final bell. The list of fighters he’s faced includes WEC champion Ben Henderson, as well as UFC fighters Dustin Hazelett and Jeremy Stephens.
The task ahead is a tall one, but Soto knows that being the first one to put Saraiva away will be like tacking another title belt to his mantle.
“It puts an image in my mind ‘wow this guy’s tough, he’s never been finished before,’ but it also motivates me to be the first guy that finishes him,” Soto said. “I’m going to try to finish him on the floor, I’m going to try to finish him on my feet, wherever I can.”