New Jersey-based superhero Greg Soto headlines CFFC 12 this weekend, challenging Chip Pollard for a belt that will undoubtedly be resting on the mantelpiece of the Soto household come Monday morning. Now, I could extoll the virtues of Soto and list the notable accomplishments that make him one of the better fighters to ever come out of the Northeast circuit - things like the fact that he fought (and won) at the first ever sanctioned amateur MMA event in New Jersey, that his only two career losses came in the Octagon (one of which was a disqualification for an inadvertent bout-ending foul), that he's a jiu-jitsu brown belt under Kurt Pellegrino, etc. But I won't. Instead, I will tell a story about how Soto headlined a small show in the arena of a community college in Lincroft, New Jersey, and how he totally set the place on fire.
Battle Cage Xtreme debuted on May 12, 2007, and like all newborn promotions, the first event was a struggle to find its legs. Ed Hsu put the card together, and after assembling a number of cards for his own Combat in the Cage shows, he knew that success hinged upon getting local guys to compete. So he did. Everybody's friend Eddy Rolon was there (in what would be his last MMA bout ever), as was Joe Andujar of the Rhino Fight Team, Carlos Moreno (a.k.a., the Latino Tank Abbott), the budding Tim Troxell, and the piece de resistance: Pellegrino MMA's Soto versus Ricardo Almeida-trained Sergio Vinagre.
The worst case-scenario for any promoter is when a card is short and the fights go quick, and BCX only had six bouts to offer fans. Worse still was the fact that none of them were going to decision, and most were ending in the first round. The audience was being fed quick, violent and sudden endings, but was it getting its money's worth?
Then Soto and Vinagre entered the cage, and the crowd came alive. There were hints of rivalry there, something about Pellegrino eschewing training with Almeida to go to the Armory in Florida and then venture out on his own, and if you've ever seen the two Garden State fight teams assemble for their fighters, you know they become passionate. So that was the stage that was set, and when Soto and Vinagre began mixing it up, things started to get crazy. Both men were undefeated as pros, both were great on the ground (the edge in subs probably went to Vinagre, the edge in wrestling to Soto), and both were content to duke it out on the feet. And that's what they did - Vinagre planting himself to wing punches, Soto leaping in to swing and jumping back out to avoid eating a counter. From outside the cage Pellegrino was shouting instructions, as was Almeida and even the revered Renzo Gracie (who was also there to corner Vinagre). Then, at about three and a half minutes into the first round, BAM! Soto hit the sweet spot, and down his opponent went.
The audience went wild.
BCX went on to do a couple more shows, with their last event taking place in Atlantic City and featuring dudes like Jim Miller and UFC vet Kevin Jordan. But on that night in May of 2007, Soto was the center of the universe to everyone who'd gathered around the cage in that arena in Lincroft. As usual, he delivered the goods as needed. If there's a moral to this story, it's that Soto - when he squares up against Pollard at CFFC on Saturday night - has been there before. He kicked ass then; there's no reason he won't kick ass now.