Alex Soto was stoked. Not only was the bantamweight set to make his UFC debut, but he had received more good news about his first Octagon appearance.

“I just found out my fight is going to be on Spike,” the undefeated fighter told The MMA Corner.

It was a great moment for the Mexican-born Soto, who already had a legendary fight story attached to him before ever entering into a sanctioned fight. In the schoolyards of Tijuana, Soto had come to the aid of a bullied cousin. He agreed to take on ten kids, one at a time, in the yard of a neighbor who acted as a sort of referee. It was Soto who would emerge victorious.

“It’s just a good story to show that at a very young age I was always intrigued with martial arts,” Soto said. “My mom was always, ‘No, you’re not doing mixed martial arts! No, you’re not doing that kind of stuff because you’ll get hurt.’ It’s just part of my story, growing up in Mexico and Tijuana and having all the crazy adventures that I have. It’s part of growing up in Mexico.”

Years later, Soto decided to give the sport of mixed martial arts a serious try. He had done some boxing during his time in the Army and had also discovered jiu-jitsu while in the service. He went on to train in jiu-jitsu in a gym in Mexico and fought for as little as $50 in Tijuana, though he considered even that small amount to be an added bonus for doing something he loved.

Soto eventually found a mentor in Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Manolo Hernandez. First training under Hernandez’s tutelage at Und1sputed Point Loma, Soto has since followed the former Lion’s Den senior instructor to San Diego Combat Academy.

“Manolo has been my mentor throughout this whole process, as well as my coach,” admitted Soto. “He has been around for a very long time and he just makes sure we always have the right fights at the right time. He’s always watching, making sure that we’re doing the right training. He’s just been a huge part in getting me to the UFC. He did the same thing with Liz Carmouche, who is a Strikeforce fighter. Did the same thing with Walel Watson. He’s just doing a lot of good things and, obviously, it’s showing.”

Hernandez has been there to mold Soto into a top prospect, but the 6-0-1 fighter has also shared this journey with another up-and-comer who recently debuted with the UFC, his aforementioned teammate Walel Watson. Soto’s first glimpse of the behind-the-scenes workings of the UFC came when he cornered Watson at UFC Live 6 in Washington, D.C.

“It gave me a great advantage as to what to expect when you’re in the UFC,” said Soto. “When I went to corner Walel, it was a very special moment because Walel and I have been training together for about the same amount of time and it’s just great to have fulfilled it. To just see my training partner – all the hard work that we’ve put in – and just out there in front of everybody. It was just great.”

Now, it’s Soto’s chance to be on the opposite side of the chain-link fence from where he stood at UFC Live 6. The opportunity came about when Johnny Eduardo was forced to withdraw from a scheduled UFC 139 contest with Michael McDonald. Soto agreed to step in as a late replacement and meet McDonald on the preliminary card of the event.

“(McDonald) is a young fighter who has a good head on his shoulders,” Soto said. “He is very confident. He’s very sure of himself. I think he’s going to be an awesome opponent to go up against because he’s going to go all out and I’m going to go all out too. That’s how he always shows up and that’s how I plan on showing up too.”

Beyond fighting, Soto's other passion is working with animals.

The U.S. Navy dolphin trainer was already preparing for a Nov. 19 fight when he got the call from the UFC. Soto had been set to welcome former Sengoku champion Masanori Kanehara to U.S. shores.

“It really hasn’t (changed my training),” Soto explained. “When I got the call, I was doing my strength and conditioning workout, like right in the peak of my strength. It was just the perfect timing.

“Kanehara is the same kind of fighter. He’s a very well-rounded fighter, a striker and a very good ground game. It’s a different person but the same body that I’ll be fighting.”

The call from the UFC came after Soto fell just short of making the cast of The Ultimate Fighter 14. Clearly on the UFC’s radar as the UWC Mexico bantamweight champion, Soto received an invite to the tryouts and now has found himself joining the UFC roster without ever making a visit to the famed TUF house.

The Ultimate Fighter has its pro’s and con’s,” said Soto. “It’s a great way to expose yourself as a fighter and get a lot of fans and everything, but ultimately I’m in the UFC and that’s what matters.”

His opponent, McDonald, has racked up a 13-1 record. While the highly-touted striker finished off his first 11 victims, he has recently found himself going the distance with a unanimous decision victory over Edward Faaloloto and a split verdict over Chris Cariaso.

“(It’s) the level that he’s at now,” Soto said of McDonald’s recent trend of finding himself at the mercy of the judges’ scorecards. “This is the UFC – top of the top. These are all professional athletes, all who are just as confident as the other. He’s in a different level now.”

Soto also recently ran into an opponent he was unable to finish. Heading to Japan to compete under the Deep promotional banner, Soto took on veteran Seiji Akao in a two-round contest. The outcome was a draw.

“It was a stand-up battle and I ended up veering away from the game plan,” explained Soto. “The first round, I completely dominated him with my striking and even took him down and did some ground-and-pound.

“In the middle of the second round is when he ended up getting my back. He couldn’t submit me, and he just kind of held onto me. There was nothing else. He wasn’t trying really to choke me out. He was just holding on for dear life because he knew as soon as he let go I would have just smashed him.”

Soto hopes to post a much more decisive result when he steps into the Octagon at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., this weekend. He feels he holds an edge in certain physical aspects over his nemesis and, despite being seven years the elder of the 20-year-old McDonald, grants that McDonald’s biggest edge comes in the form of more experience.

“I think my strength (is my biggest advantage),” Soto admitted. “I’m more explosive and I’m very strong for my weight class. I think that’s going to play a big factor in the fight.”

He predicts that if he and McDonald do not battle for a full three rounds, he’ll “shut off” McDonald in the first round of their fight. Not only would such a victory be a great accomplishment for Soto, but it would make a huge statement coming against the consensus top-20 ranked bantamweight McDonald.

“He’s a guy who has a lot of hype going up behind him,” said Soto. “He performs very well. I think a win over him will let the rest of the division know that the newcomer, Alex Soto, is here to stay.”

But with the new revelation that his fight will air on the Spike portion of the broadcast, is Soto feeling any added pressure?

“Aw hell no. I’m so stoked, either way. It’s a fight. He’s going to be on the other side of the cage and that’s all that matters. I’m going to be focused on him. The fact that it’s on Spike is an added bonus, it’s great. I’m really excited that a lot of people will get to see this fight and I think a lot of people are going to like it.”

Soto would like to thank everybody that has helped him to get to the UFC, his training partners, everybody from San Diego Combat Academy, Manolo Hernandez, his management team at Alchemist Management, Lex McMahon, Trevor Wittman and everyone who has ever believed in him.

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