You didn’t even need to see it happen; you could simply hear it. It was debatable who won the first round. The first five minutes were evenly matched and could be written off as a draw. But the audible watershed moment came in the second when Greg Soto took Nick Osipczak’s back. The TD Garden in Boston, Mass erupted into a frenzy like Larry “Legend” sunk a game winning bucket and began chants of “U-S-A” at top volume.
From there, New Jersey product Greg Soto never relented with pressure on his lanky British opponent on his way to his first UFC victory. “I definitely heard the crowd in the second and it really helped me push and really put it on him,” remembers Soto, noting that the cheering did not fall on deaf ears. “Once I got that position and the crowd was behind me, the win was never in doubt from then on.”
At UFC 118, the Kurt Pellegrino protégé showed off a new side of himself to the UFC fans: a winning side. “It feels good to get a win underneath me, but I'm looking for the finish in my next fight,” asserts Soto, who seemed to throw everything and the kitchen sink at The Ultimate Fighter alum Osipczak. “I would have liked to have gotten the finish, but Nick's tough and resilient. He hung in there even though I was beating on him pretty good.”
The loudest moment of this welterweight fight was Soto taking Osipczak’s back in the second, but Soto’s true crowning achievement was the entirety of the third round. “I was surprised that it wasn't a 10-8 third round,” admits Soto about hearing the scores from the judges concerning his dominance in the final stanza. “I had him in danger and he was literally seconds away from being finished, I think, on a few occasions. I had a deep choke, I was hurting him with elbows, and he didn't mount any offense whatsoever, so I was a little surprised.”
The Monmouth University graduate’s most damaging move in that third round was also his most innovative: an arm-triangle choke and knees to the belly... at the same time. “I'm always looking for where I can do the most damage and be as efficient as possible,” remarks Soto about raining down knees on “Slick” Nick while having him in a mounted choke. “I could hear him wheezing, but I knew I had hit a point that I couldn't finish the choke because he had his arm in such a way it was blocking one side of his neck, so I wanted to take advantage of the fact that his arm was stuck and he couldn't protect his ribs. I'm always looking to maximize damage and it just so happened to be in an entertaining way.”
As impressive as the win was for Soto, it did leave one lingering question - why did it take a round for him to start really winning? “I'm a little bit of a slow starter, so I've been working with my coaches on how to reach that peak performance as quickly as possible,” reveals Soto about closing a hole in his first round fight game that does disappear on its own in the later rounds. “I get more relaxed, find my groove and I get my second wind. I'm actually going to train the morning of this coming fight, so I've gotten my second wind before the first round starts.”
On New Year’s Day in Las Vegas, Soto is looking to use this momentum and new strategy against Daniel Roberts. “Ninja” will be entering the Octagon on a two fight win streak, which was capped off with an ultra slick anaconda choke win over Mike Guymon at UFC 121. The Jiu-Jitsu blue belt is a very game grappler with 8 of his 11 career wins coming by submission. Roberts is also a notorious fast starter with all but one of those submissions happening in the first round.
Greg Soto knows this and it doesn’t scare him. None of it.
“I’m looking forward to fighting Daniel Roberts. I think he is overlooking me. He has a lot of hype behind him, but really I think he has a padded record. He has not fought the caliber of guys that I have fought. I'm going to bring it to him and I'm going to make a statement in the welterweight division on New Year’s.”
The 24 year old’s confidence is at an epic level leading into this January 1st showdown with Daniel Roberts. Even in light of Roberts’ shot-out-of-a-cannon speed in the opening round, Soto is unfazed. “I think that is the only time he is dangerous is in that first five minutes,” says Soto about his opponent’s chances. “His pace drops off, whereas mine gets faster and faster. I'm going to take him into the deep waters and I'm going to drown him.”
There is not much room in Soto’s pre-fight vocabulary for any admiration for his opponent. “He is definitely submission savvy and is a good athlete,” discloses Soto, but the buck stops there as far as any praise. “That is something to keep in mind, but I'm definitely more well-rounded and a more dynamic fighter. I think I'm better than him in his strengths and in other areas I'm far superior. I don't see how he is going to beat me.”
In every stage of a fight, Soto truly believes he is just the greater predator. “In the stand-up, I'm going to mix it up and hit him from different angles,” declares Soto, who has been training four times a week with a new K-1 experienced kickboxing coach, Brian Wright. “And I'm going to give him hell when he tries to take me down. I'm going to be coming at him with kicks, punches, knees, I'm going to take him down, grind him out, and finish him.”
Even the added hurdle of “Ninja” Roberts being left-handed is not cause for a moment of concern to Soto. “The last four fighters I have fought have been southpaw,” Soto explains that Nick Osipscak switches between southpaw and orthodox, so he’s been sparring with southpaws regularly. “Either way, I think his stand-up is pretty much non-existent. I don't think he is dynamic enough or has enough tools to do anything that I haven't seen before.”
Soto’s confidence does not end with their abilities in the cage, but in all manner of physics. “I'm taller than him, I think I have a reach on him and I should be heavier than him,” Soto continues that he thinks he will be superior in each category of the “Tale of the Tape” besides age come fight night. “He's older than me, but I think I'll be considerably stronger than him come fight time. I have been in the gym lifting since a week off my last fight and have been walking around at 193 pounds.”
On January 1st, Greg Soto will enter the Octagon versus Daniel Roberts for the UFC’s first pay-per-view of 2011. “I'm really excited about fighting in Las Vegas at the MGM on this card and I promise I'm going to finish Daniel Roberts,” affirms Soto, all under the watchful eye and barking orders of UFC lightweight and mentor Kurt Pellegrino in his corner. “I've put in the work and the hours and Daniel Roberts is not going to stop me from reaching the top of the welterweight division.”
Soto Unmoved by the Threat of a “Ninja”
"I'm going to give him hell when he tries to take me down. I'm going to be coming at him with kicks, punches, knees, I'm going to take him down, grind him out, and finish him.”