The road to the UFC is rarely the same for any fighter that travels it.
Where in the “dark ages” of the sport there were few passable options, the current era of mixed martial arts has spawned a veritable proving ground before one hits the ultimate proving ground. The regional circuit - once its own autonomous thing reserved for Saturday nights and local heroes - has become a feeder system to the next tier of organizations who come equipped with television deals and a roster lined with talent of both the recognizable and unknown varieties.
Such is the environment in these worlds that a fighter can experience many of the elements that would create shock when stepping out on the biggest stage of the sport. Granted, the lights aren’t quite as bright and the crowd not overwhelming, but the atmosphere - and certainly the fighter standing across from them in the cage - is as real as it gets.
Sean Soriano used his time fighting at different levels to prepare himself for his upcoming debut. While the UFC was the place he envisioned and knew he would always arrive at one day, he was willing to allow for that growth to happen in phases. The results have been impressive as he’s earned victories in all eight of his professional showings and has looked impressive all the way through.
That run of success earned a call from the biggest promotion in MMA, and on January 4 at UFC Fight Night in Singapore, a moment he’s been waiting for will finally arrive. The Blackzilians-trained fighter will make his Octagon debut against Tatsuya Kawajiri, and it’s an opportunity he’s determined to make the most of.
“The major thing I’ve learned about myself to this point in my career is that patience is definitely a virtue,” Soriano said. “If you put your mind to something, don’t stop until you accomplish what you started. It means everything to me to be fighting in the Octagon. It is something I have been waiting for my entire career. The UFC is the NBA of fighting. First impressions last the longest and I plan to go out there and earn my place in the division as well as the UFC.”
With the UFC’s roster stacked deep with talent, there are no easy assignments. That especially rings true as the 24-year-old faces a proven veteran in Kawajiri. While “Crusher” has long been one of Japan’s best products, their meeting in Singapore will also mark his official UFC debut as well. The former Strikeforce title challenger has collected five consecutive victories and will undoubtedly be a tall order to handle.
That being said, with his eyes on the prize and full recognition of what a victory in Singapore can bring, the only thing Soriano has in his mind is victory. While Kawajiri may carry a name, he’s looking to make his own and that starts on January 4.
“Honestly it didn’t matter who it was, I just wanted the opportunity to be on the biggest stage,” Soriano said. “But fighting Kawajiri is great. He is a great opponent and has been around for years, but I’m ready for this opportunity. I feel my style is great for someone like Kawajiri because of my speed. I feel I’m the new era of fighter.”
While his age will make him one of the youngest fighters on the roster, Soriano has put youthful exuberance to work with the pursuit of knowledge. In training in south Florida at the famed Blackzilians camp, he worked with a collection of the best fighters to step inside the cage. In addition to the talent he’s consistently up against inside the gym, the coaching staff he has been working under are some of the best minds the sport has to offer.
Where Soriano could have thrown caution to the wind and hoped his zest for competition and natural talent were enough, he decided to take the pupil role to a room full of teachers. He believes his willingness to do so will not only ensure he’s properly prepared for battle in Singapore, but will also provide him the tools to take this thing as far as he is willing to push it.
“Training with the Blackzilians has matured me in and out of the gym,” Soriano said. “I’m a lot younger than my teammates and they have made me grow up. They’ve helped me learn to push myself. I’m going to give my all inside the Octagon for 15 or 25 minutes every time and I will leave every drop of sweat and blood I have in that Octagon.”
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Sean Soriano: The Patience and the Discipline
"I’m ready for this opportunity. I feel my style is great for someone like Kawajiri because of my speed. I feel I’m the new era of fighter." - Sean Soriano