KEY VICTORIES: Tommy Speer and Mario Stapel
KEY VICTORIES: Drew Fickett and Chad Reiner
Mixed martial arts’ version of the Fabulous Baker Boys may better be coined the Bruising Baker Brothers.
Beau and younger brother Kyle have taken stellar backgrounds in amateur wrestling and parlayed them into successful careers in the cage, forging a brutal style that is difficult for opponents to deal with.
Fighting out their own MMA Institute in Harrisburg, Virginia, their MMA roots actually stem from rather humble beginnings just a few short years ago.
“Five years away from college wrestling competition left me needing something to fill the void of one-on-one combat. The easy choice was MMA. The hard part was finding a place to do it,” Beau told MMAWeekly.com. “Two hours away from the closest BJJ gym, let alone MMA gym, I turned to my younger brother Kyle, a fellow Virginia State wrestling champion.”
From there, the two forged their path the cage, using hard work and perseverance as a guide.
“We started off on a pair of old mattresses in Kyle’s basement, learning submission grappling from an Eddie Bravo book and the Bas Rutten instructional DVDs,” says Beau.
Three years later, the two brothers had their own gym, the a fore mentioned MMA Institute, with more than 6,000 square feet of space, numerous members, and an ever-expanding roster of fighters who continue to rack up wins under the guidance of the two former wrestling champions.
Along the way, the two have managed their own successes in the cage.
Like many former wrestlers, the Baker brothers use their wrestling skills effectively in the cage, controlling opponents and keeping the fight where they want it. Both are dominating fighters from the clinch, wearing on opponents who try to stand with them.
When watching the brothers fight, the difference you might notice is that Beau is more apt to take a fighter to the mat for the finish. He’ll punish guys while standing, softening them up from the clinch, but Beau has a knack for arm bars and chokes.
Kyle, by contrast, seems to take a perverse pleasure in annihilating opponents on the feet. Like Beau, he likes to control opponents from the clinch, but instead of softening them up for a submission on the mat, Kyle tends to brutalize opponents with his dirty boxing and sidesplitting knees to the body.
With roughly three years of professional experience under their belts, the Baker boys have gradually worked their way up the ranks fighting for such respectable promotions as the Ultimate Warrior Challenge (UWC) in the Washington, D.C. area and Shine Fights.
Of course, as for almost any mixed martial artist, the ultimate goal is the bigger stages of the sport such as the UFC… and neither should be far off the radar.
Amongst Beau’s victories are The Ultimate Fighter finalist Tommy Speer and German champion Mario Stapel. He stumbled late last year against Bellator veteran Jacob McClintock, but bounced back with a win over Ran Weathers earlier this year. He has won three of his last four.
Kyle, however, is probably a step closer than Beau in moving up the ranks. He faltered early last year against UFC veteran Brian Foster, but that’s his only loss in his eight most recent fights. He can also boast wins over Chad Reiner and Drew Fickett, both UFC veterans.
Both Bakers have the necessary attributes to compete at the highest levels of the sport and are used the hard work and effort it takes to be successful there. They carry with them the fortitude of having built their careers their own way, relying only on each other and their burgeoning team of fighters.
All it should take at this point is stringing a couple of wins together against name opponents and it’s likely we’ll see both brutalizing opponents in front of worldwide audiences.
KEY VICTORY: Henry Briones
Many young people go to Mexico to party, hoping for an epic story of drunken debauchery. Alex Soto went in the opposite direction. Born and raised in the border town of Tijuana, Soto was happy when his family legally immigrated to the United States for more opportunities.
Soto joined the Army so he could giveback to his adopted country in its time of need after 9-11. Not only that, Soto volunteered for the 25th Infantry Division’s elite Long Range Surveillance Detachment and spent a year in Afghanistan doing the things he can’t tell you about without killing you.
After the Army, Soto got into MMA because he was a mini Randy Couture: a wrestler with a natural penchant for striking. The striking started in junior high school when he got into 10 fights with 10 different kids—one after the other—so they would leave his cousin alone. He went 10-0.
“You could say I come from a boxing background,” Soto says. “But that’s not enough anymore. These days, even at my level, you have to know all aspects of MMA or you will get your ass handed to you.”
That level is still the lower reaches of MMA, but Soto is quickly making a name for himself in the Southern California/ Mexican featherweight circles. On April 22, he captured the Ultimate Warrior Challenge Mexico 145-pound title with a TKO win over Rafael Salomao.
Though he considers himself a grappler, Soto can stand in the pocket and trade strikes. He also has a Clay Guida chin and Frankie Edgar cardio to go the distance. Prior to his featherweight title fight, Soto defeated Henry “El Bure” Briones in a nonstop fury of strikes that didn’t slow down for 15 minutes.
“He’s an experienced fighter who tested my heart and chin.” Soto says. “It was not only tough because he was an old training partner but also because the Mexico crowd loved him. But when the fight ended, I won the crowd over and got the decision.”
Standing and banging can only get you so far in this rapidly evolving sport, so Soto’s maturity might be what separates him from the other featherweights with their eyes on the WEC. He fights beyond his 26 years with a clarity and calmness that his opponents find unsettling, which is hardly surprising when you consider his real combat experience in Afghanistan.
“The most important lesson I have learned is to remain calm before and during the fight,” he says. “Fighting with a clear, focused mind is very hard to do and it’s something that I have managed to control as I’ve had more fights.”
Away from MMA, Soto continues to serve his country by training dolphins in search and rescue operations for the U.S.Navy.