The late singer Tom Petty once opined that the waiting is the hardest part, and for UFC newcomer Punahele Soriano, that sentiment certainly rings true.
Following a contract-winning performance on Dana White’s Contender Series last summer, Soriano was set to make a speedy turnaround and debut at UFC 242 in September. Injuries to opponent Adam Yandiev ultimately thwarted those plans.
“My opponent got hurt, needed surgery. I didn’t think too much about it. Just on to the next.”
He says this casually and politely, as if the moment he had trained for his whole career wasn’t hanging in the balance. Like his growing brethren of fellow Hawaiian UFC fighters, Soriano is manners first, punching second.
“Just inconvenienced, you know? Getting frustrated or mad isn’t going to help me get better. No point in doing that.”
It may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of flying to the other side of the world for the Abu Dhabi event, he’ll get to make his first walk in his adopted home of Las Vegas, on one of the biggest pay-per-views of the year Saturday at UFC 245. Featherweight champion Max Holloway has frequently dubbed Vegas the “Ninth Island” for its palpable Hawaiian support, and fighting alongside his friend and statesman puts an extra spring in his step.
“Obviously, Max is on the card, too. It’s a great feeling. I get to open the card up and regardless of how I do, he’s going to perform to his best. To know that I can give him a boost kind of gives me a boost, as well. It just pumps me up. I get to start the card off right.”
The first walk of the evening will cap off a wild six months for the fighter that began on a night when he had convinced himself he wasn’t getting a UFC contract.
Defeating Jamie Pickett by unanimous decision in dominant fashion on Dana White’s Contender Series in June, the undefeated fighter couldn’t escape the notion that he was unable to score a finish for the first time in his career.
“I’m a little embarrassed that I cried and stuff. It was a crazy night. A wild night. I kind of wasn’t in the moment. I was just expecting to be in the UFC. Luckily I got there, but now I feel like I’m more in the moment. I’m enjoying where I am and having fun with it.”
So has he learned to appreciate that victory in hindsight?
“Yeah, definitely. That’s why I feel so silly about the crying.”
And would he feel at ease if Saturday’s bout against Oskar Piechota also ended with a decision?
“Yeah, for sure. I’d definitely be happy. It’s just a different circumstance, you know? On Contender Series, you almost feel like you need a finish, you know? That’s the mindset I had going in. But in the UFC a win is a win. That’s all I’m going for.”
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A win…and some time off.
“The last few months have been hard. I’d been going through the first camp for UFC 242 and it fell through, so I’ve just been doing two back-to-back camps, which is pretty hard.”
Hard yes, but always in good company at Vegas’ Xtreme Couture, where he counts another Hawaiian comrade, Brad Tavares, among his training partners. In going through the paces with a fellow middleweight, Soriano can envision a path for himself.
“It’s awesome. He’s a great role model and I look up to him on the mat and off the mat. He’s a great person all around, always helping people. It’s really nice to have someone you can look up to. I see how far he’s taken things, and I can kind of see myself in his shoes.”
So, with a fight on Saturday and the holidays just around the corner, it seems like some well-earned time off is in the cards starting on Sunday?
“Oh definitely, that’s the main thing on my mind. Relax, take some time off. But at the same time, if I get a win, I’ll definitely want to get back in there right away.”