Punahele Soriano relishes the opportunity to impact the momentum of his team.
Whether he’s resetting spirits following a disappointing loss or building on the energy created by a series of wins, the Xtreme Couture representative craves crossing the threshold into the Octagon with the pressure of setting the course for the long-time Las Vegas fight camp resting on his shoulders.
“I love it!” began the 28-year-old, who takes on Brendan Allen this weekend in a critical middleweight pairing, speaking about the connection and camaraderie that courses through the team at Xtreme Couture. “I feel like with every win the team gets, it’s a little more pressure on the next person, and I love it.
“I actually love it both ways — either when there is a lot of pressure from a lot of wins or a lot of pressure from some losses in a row; I always want to be the guy to get the team back on track.
“Like with Dan’s last fight,” he continues, pointing to longtime friend and teammate Dan Ige’s loss to Chan Sung Jung. “I saw that and immediately after, I was thinking, ‘I want to get that back; I want to make sure we get one back for Dan.’ I like the fire it brings for me.”
While being in that situation certainly brings Soriano energy, he also comes by his fire to compete naturally, as part of the increasingly growing collection of Hawaiians continuing to make their mark in the UFC and mixed martial arts, as a whole.
Although he wasn’t as instinctively drawn to throwing hands as some of his family and friends growing up, the emerging middleweight eventually discovered he had an aptitude for it, and now finds himself at the vanguard of a new crop of talents working their way up the ranks.
“It’s funny because in Hawaii, it’s a warrior culture there — a lot of people fight growing up; that’s kind of what you do — but I never really got into fights growing up,” laughed Soriano, who carries an 8-0 record into his clash with Allen on Saturday night. “I watched everyone else fight and I never really knew if I could do it or not.
“It just so happens, I can,” he added, still chasing his words with laughter. “Maybe being raised in it, you adapt to it anyway, without even knowing. It’s just what it is when you’re born there.”
UFC 245: PUNAHELE SORIANO KOs PIECHOTA
UFC 245: PUNAHELE SORIANO KOs PIECHOTA
Whether it’s environmental influence, osmosis, or a cultural predisposition to being tough as nails, Soriano embraces it all, and wants to be part of the evolution of opinions surrounding Hawaiian fighters.
“It comes with a lot of pressure, but I love to live up to that and push beyond that,” offered Soriano, who missed all of 2020 after dealing with a hip injury. “I don’t want to just be another Hawaiian with a granite chin that can hit hard — I want to be the Hawaiian that can do that and everything else; the guy that can wrestle, can grapple, can win hard rounds, and can grind it out.
“I want to be the new breed.”
Thus far, the unbeaten middleweight hasn’t had a lot of time to show the other parts of his game inside the Octagon because he’s made quick work of his first two opponents by hitting them fairly hard.
In his promotional debut at UFC 245, Soriano opened the show with a first-round stoppage win over Oskar Piechota, downing the Polish veteran a little more than three minutes into their engagement with a clean left hook.
Then in January, he knocked fellow Dana White’s Contender Series graduate Dusko Todorovic from the ranks of the unbeaten, sending him packing with a dozen seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
“I got a little ‘boop’ on him a couple times,” joked Soriano, referencing how he described an image of him punching Todorovic in the mush on Instagram. “It was amazing, especially being on the couch for a year, which was really hard.
“I only got to start training for the beginning of that camp — I came off the injury and made up my mind that I was going to fight whether I was healthy or not, and my body reacted positively, and it felt good knowing my mind is stronger than my injuries.”
Two fights into his UFC career, Soriano has no legitimate complaints, and this weekend, he has the chance to set himself up as the top emerging talent in the middleweight division when he takes on Allen.
Like Soriano, the 25-year-old Louisiana native graduated from DWCS and has hit the ground running since arriving in the UFC, posting a 4-1 record that includes three finishes, one of them a submission win over 2020 breakout star Kevin Holland.
More established within the division and brandishing twice as many victories and 20 career fights, Allen is widely considered to be a little further ahead in his development and further ahead in the pecking order than his Hawaiian opponent.
Not only is Soriano unsure if that’s true, he also doesn’t really care.
“Yeah… maybe… I don’t know; I don’t really think about it like that,” he said in regard to this matchup representing a solid step up in competition. “All I think about is getting into the gym every day and training as hard as I can.
“He might have been fighting longer than me — he’s a great fighter and he’s good everywhere; he can do it all — but I’m a good fighter as well and I plan to be better than him everywhere.
“All that matters is that one day,” he added. “The day of the fight.”
And come Saturday, Soriano knows one thing and one thing only: that he’s going to beat Brendan Allen.
“I know he comes from a good camp — they’ve got tough guys there, good coaches — but I’m just going to go out there and out-fight him. I’m not afraid to get tired. I’m not afraid to get in there and give it my all. I’m not afraid to die out there.
“I’m going out there to win and that’s it.”