Joe Soto finally appears to have some job security.
The former Bellator MMA and Tachi Palace Fights champion posted his third straight victory under the Ultimate Fighting Championship flag, as he captured a unanimous decision from Rani Yahya at UFC Fight Night “Belfort vs. Gastelum” on Saturday in Fortaleza, Brazil. That he swept the scorecards with 29-28, 29-27 and 29-27 marks from the judges as an underdog -- he was listed at +190, according to BetDSI.com -- made it even sweeter.
Yahya (-235) was hyperactive with his standup, and though he dictated the majority of the action in Round 1 with knees, punches and kicks, his overzealous output proved too great a burden for the 2007 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist to carry. Soto withstood a second-round clash of heads that resulted in a gnarly gash to his scalp and turned the battle into a bloodbath. Yahya tired to the point of exhaustion over the final 10 minutes, allowing the Californian to seize control with an effective sprawl and damaging ground-and-pound.
“I thought it was a tough fight,” said Soto, who evened his UFC record at 3-3. “Rani is a really tough opponent. Hopefully, I go up in the rankings with that win.”
Yahya was not the only favorite to crash and burn. Tim Means (-209) shared in his misery, as the former King of the Cage champion submitted to a rear-naked choke from Alex Oliveira in the second round of their welterweight showcase. “The Dirty Bird” bowed out 2:38 into Round 2, losing for the first time in nearly two years.
Oliveira (+174) troubled the Albuquerque, New Mexico, native in the clinch and frustrated him with a series of takedowns in the first round. Means assumed top position with roughly 90 seconds to go in the frame but could not back up his stroke of good fortune with any meaningful damage. Oliver returned to his takedown-centric approach in the middle stanza, slid to the back and cinched the choke for the tapout.
The two men originally squared off at UFC 207 on Dec. 30, when a pair of illegal knees from Means resulted in a no-contest at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. There was no such controversy this time.
“It was a win to cleanse the soul,” Oliveira said. “He’s a tough guy. The last time we met, I left the arena [on] a stretcher, but this time, everything worked out. I thank him for accepting the fight again. He could have said no but he accepted, and I thank him. I would appreciate it even if I had lost the fight. Now is the time to enjoy my children, my mother and my family; and whatever the UFC points out to me, I’ll be ready.”