At UFC 164, the mold was cast. Fans all around the world who hadn’t yet been introduced to Soa “The Hulk” Palelei would remember a fight experience of which no professional fighter could be truly proud. Palelei may have scored a third-round TKO of Nikita Krylov, but it was far from the first impression he would have preferred to have made. A broken rib gave him some benefit of the doubt, but it left others asking the question of whether this man really belonged in the UFC.

At UFC Fight Night 33, that question was answered when “The Hulk” handed Pat Barry the final loss in Barry’s UFC career.

“It felt good to get in there again and redeem myself,” Palelei admitted in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I just wanted to go out and put on a good performance. He is a good guy, and I hope that he finds success in whatever he decides to do after mixed martial arts. I’m glad with how the fight went, and I think that it showed I have what it takes to keep on fighting in the UFC.”

Last week, UFC officials announced that Palelei would be added to the May 10 UFC Fight Night card in Cincinnati. Palelei’s next opponent in the Octagon is recently signed Extreme Fighting Championship Africa heavyweight champion Ruan Potts.

Palelei (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Palelei (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“That one came out of left field a bit,” Palelei said. “I mean, it doesn’t worry me too much. Whoever they tell me to fight, I will fight. That’s just how it works. Whether he is ranked or whatever, I don’t mind. I am happy to take it one step at a time and earn my place in the rankings, but at the same time, if they wanted me to fight a top-10 guy, I’d take it with no worries at all.

“With the time of this one, I think it’s pretty clear that the UFC want me to fight on the next Australian card, which is supposed to be later in the year. It would have been good if it was in Melbourne at Etihad Stadium. They can fit 50,000 people in there and that would have been an awesome atmosphere. The problem is the government down there don’t understand the safety implications of the ban on the cage. It’s their loss, though, and I’m sure the next show the UFC puts on in Australia is going to be huge.”

With a sporting rivalry that stretches across the various football codes, as well as cricket, Australia and South Africa have enjoyed a healthy competitive relationship for years. Palelei sees his bout with Potts as yet another chance to extend that sporting culture.

“It’s gonna be a bit like the rugby rivalry [laughs]. It’s the Wallabies against the Springboks,” he joked. “Every time the two countries clash there are always people excited to watch, and I think that’s what they are gonna get in this fight.

“No matter who the opponent is, though, I treat every fight the same. He’s gonna be eager to go out and impress in his debut, and I know what that’s like. I’ve watched his footage, and he looks like he’s a heavy hitter. I think I’ll be ready for whatever he has for me, but you never know. In this game, it can change so quickly and it only takes one punch. I don’t take any opponent lightly. Everybody has something in their arsenal they can hurt you with.”

For the most part, Palelei’s fights all have a similar formula to them: Work the takedown, get the takedown, ground-and-pound—or “Hulk Smash,” as he has coined it.

“You’d think after so many fights someone would figure it out,” Palelei said with a laugh. “If I can go in and get the takedown, then I’ll get it. But there’s always a ‘plan A’, a ‘plan B,’ and a ‘plan C.’ Leading up to the fight, we always have a game plan on how things will go if something different happens. And, you know, if those three plans don’t work, there’s always ‘plan D’—running out of the cage to the locker room [laughs]. No matter how the fight plays out, I fight to win and I’m not looking at losing again anytime soon.”

With every intention of extending his 10-fight winning streak, it’s clear that “The Hulk” is not going to let Potts impress his new employers in his UFC debut. With his willingness to take his career one fight at a time, Palelei promises to continue to deliver in the heavyweight division.

Palelei may be facing a newcomer to the UFC on May 10, and he knows all too well what that pressure can do to someone inside the famed Octagon. With his nerves well and truly out of the way leading into his bout, Palelei plans to unleash the best “Hulk” yet and once again show that the UFC is his home, and it will be for years to come.

Soa would like to thank R9WA, Mackboots, Southern Crossfit, Limousine Excursions, My Urban Swagga, Osbourne Park Chrysler Dodge and Jeep, Super Stars & Legends, Muscle Meals Direct, Innovative Hair Loss Solutions, Nuju Organic Coconut Water, Exquisite Dentistry, Jols Martial Arts, Adidas, Tropical Rejuvenation, and Gleam On Detailing. Follow Palelei on Twitter: @soathehulk

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.