by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Photo courtesy Bellator FC)

Heading into this year’s Bellator Fighting Championships 145-pound tournament few had Nor Cal Fighting Alliance’s Joe Soto as the favorite to win, but that’s exactly what he did.

His three dominant performances in the tournament opened the eyes of many in the MMA community and established Soto as one to watch in the featherweight division.

Four months removed from being crowned champion at Bellator, Soto takes his next step forward at Thursday’s debut show of the Tachi Palace Fights against fellow undefeated fighter Mike Christensen.

“I’m doing great. I feel like I’ve definitely improved since my last fight on my techniques and I’m ready to go,” Soto told MMAWeekly.com of his return to action.

After winning the Bellator title and putting himself firmly on the map, it could be possible for Soto to overlook Christensen towards future opportunities, but not so says Joe.

“I’m definitely not (looking past this fight),” he stated. “I’m just as excited to fight here as I was in Bellator. This is really close to my hometown, so I feel like it’s a homecoming for me.”

Additionally, Soto claims not to feel any additional pressure after such an impressive run earlier this year.

“I feel some kind of pressure every fight,” he commented. “You always want to win, so you feel that kind of pressure. I always want to finish; to me that’s the most important part, so I kind of look at it all the same.”

The additional focus on him has also not changed the way he approaches fights, as Soto stated, “I’m always motivated to finish fights, and finish fights as fast as possible.

“I’m definitely going to go in there to try to finish, showcase my skills, and show the fans how much I’ve improved my all around game.”

While he doesn’t know much about Christensen, he claims it doesn’t faze him or alter his game plan.

“I’m more focused on what I’m going to do, and I’m not really worried about what he’s going to try to do,” stated Soto. “I’m going to impose my game and impose what I want to do on him that night.”

With large promotions paying attention to the Bellator winners such as Eddie Alvarez, it would be conceivable to think that Soto may want to jump into the big time fray right away, but he remains patient.

“I think my next fight Bellator has scheduled for March, so I think I’m going to sit back, go to the gym and keep working on my techniques, bettering myself and improving my game,” he said.

It would be easy for Soto to sacrifice long-term goals and growth for immediate payout on his recognition, but that’s not his style. And it is because of that, that his future appears to hold even more promise.

“I want to thank Dethroned, Fairtex, AdapTx Labs, and the Nor Cal Fighting Alliance,” he closed out. “I definitely want fans to come down, check out the show and enjoy it.”