Former US Army vet and UFC fighter Alex “Extremo” Soto’s journey is to say the least… a road less traveled. Through his time in the military and his wife’s battle with cancer and the birth of his daughter, Alex shares his journey with us as he prepares to fight his way back to the UFC.
As a US Army vet, first of all… Thank you. Can you tell us a little bit about your military background and how you transitioned into MMA with the San Diego Sports Academy and Team Hurricane Awesome with fighters like Liz Carmouche and Walel Watson? What made you want to get involved in MMA, was there any fight or fighter you drew inspiration from?
Soto: I joined the army in 2002 right out of high school I really wanted to get involved after the 9-11 attacks. I felt the best way to serve was as an infantry man. I did a year tour in Afghanistan where I had the honor of serving with America’s great men and women of the armed forces. It was a time in my life that I will never forget.
When I got out, I walked into a gym in San Diego and it changed my life. The gym had a flyer that read “MMA Team tryouts” and I started training for it. I can’t elaborate on details about the tryouts, other than the gym was closed to members, the doors were locked and it was by invite only. It always stays in the gym. It was one hell of a tryout! That day I met my coach Manolo Hernandes and teammate Walel Watson. What made the tryouts such an important part of my career was that at the end, my coach called us professional mixed martial artist. I walked out of that gym really believing in my abilities, not knowing how much I had to learn and how much work and sacrifice I was about to do. It was one of those moments in your life that change you forever. Next thing I know, I’m fighting as a professional, training with Walel Watson, Liz Carmouche and seeing each other grow both as athletes and friends.
You had a rocky start to your UFC career with an unusual tryout with the UFC brass for TUF and then being called in as a late replacement to face Michael McDonald at UFC 139. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and situation and if you could would you have done anything different in that fight with McDonald if you had more time to prepare?
Soto: In The fight with McDonald, I was in the best shape ever. Physically, I had everything I needed to win that fight, mentally I did not. I was completely blindsided by the mental aspect of this game. I had thought of myself as mentally strong considering everything I had gone through in my life, but this was a totally new game for me. Being mentally prepared as an athlete is something you are not born with it’s something you work at. After that fight, it kept kicking my ass into the next with Rivera. I lost confidence in myself and it simply swallowed me whole. I had one goal in mind in that fight, “don’t get KO’d, don’t get KO’d, don’t get KO’d. ” it’s hard to win a fight when all you try to do is not get KO’d. If you watch my fight you actually see me raise my hands at the end of the fight with a big smile. I didn’t get KO’d!! I took time off to focus more on family and friends and let the wound heal. The experience made me realize how crucial the mental aspect of this game is. I have spent the last six months out here in Bahrain, training hard with some great training partners and getting ready for our return to the cage. I am more prepared for the UFC now than I have ever been, I guess I found my “mojo” and after getting beat up and dragged around I’m ready to step back up to the plate. This year we are getting back to the UFC.
Training with both women and men with the level of competition in that region of California with not only your team but Dan Henderson’s Team Quest not far away has to up the ante. What’s that rivalry like and do you all cross-train with each other, sparring etc?
Soto: For sure! San Diego is a hot bed for MMA fighters. Nice weather year round and lots of good training partners. Our team always has people come to our gym to help out during the camps and we also travel to areas near San Diego for sparring. I do know a fighter or two from Team Quest, but I haven’t made the trip to go check them out yet. When I get back to San Diego I’m going to move around a lot more than I have done in the past. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone so you can desensitize yourself to new environments.
Only 3 of your 9 fights (1 draw) have gone to decision. Is finishing fights something set out to do and take pride in?
Soto: Absolutely, finishing fights is my goal in every fight! You do find with experience, that it comes at a high risk and you have to balance the times to go for it and when to hold back. You can’t always find the finish especially at the high level that’s why patience and experience will help in accomplishing your goal…win!
Your last fight was a loss to Francisco Rivera (decision) almost 2 years ago, since then you’ve been relatively quiet while training and travelling the world. Can you fill fans in on what you are up to these days? You were 6-0-1 before stepping into the UFC, any thoughts to getting back in some local promotions to get some momentum going again for a return to the UFC?
Soto: Since my last fight, my wife Joy gave birth to our first baby girl, Christiana. I know everyone says it, but she really is a miracle baby. My wife had cancer when she was younger and we had a slim chance, if any, of getting pregnant. We are the happiest parents in the world right now! With the birth of our first I also got a new job working as a contractor for the U.S. Navy and I’m currently stationed in the Kingdom of Bahrain. I’ve had the opportunity to train with some top athletes from India, Brazil and Bahrain. At the moment, I’m training at Bahrain MMA with Mohammed Shahid the Hawk, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt John Aguiar and Bahrain’s Hamzo Kooheji. I’ll head back to San Diego to train with Team Hurricane Awesome in February. I have been through a complete transformation in my fight game, I mean everything. My stance, mentality, strengths and diet. I had to start from the basics to get where I’m at right now. It’s been a lot of hard work but when your doing something you enjoy, it comes easy. We plan on making a return to the local scene this year with our new weapons and get back to where I belong…the UFC.
As a fighter, what was your most memorable fight and as a fan what is the one fight that either made you love this sport or really stands out as your favorite of all time. If you had your pick, anyone throughout the history of MMA, who would be your dream opponent?
Soto: As a fighter, my first championship fight held in Mexico would go down as the most memorable fight. I fought a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and won by TKO, it was a great moment for me and our team. As a fan, I think of Randy Couture vs Chuck Liddell I. It was such an exciting time to be a UFC fan. Randy was unstoppable!
If I had to choose to fight someone it would be Urijah Faber, he is an awesome fighter that I have a lot of respect for. I think our styles would make an exciting fight that people would love to see.
Alex, thanks for taking the time. Anyone you’d like to thank (Sponsors)? And where can fans find more info on you or stay up to date with you?
Soto: Follow me on twitter @sotomma and my teammates from Team Hurricane Awesome. Check out my wife’s survival documentary at JustOneYearmovie.com. I’d like to thank my teammates, Bahrain MMA gym, San Diego Combat Academy and my coach Manolo Hernandez for all their help in my career.
Thanks Mike for this interview, very happy to share my story with you guys! Hope to hear from you soon.