Tony Soto, 33, will make his bare knuckle debut this Friday night in Tampa, Florida, when he meets Josh Sikes inside the squared-circle at BKFC 19. The former semi-professional skateboarder who goes by the nickname "Loco," currently resides in North Carolina and recently returned to his roots in Brooklyn, New York, where he will finish up preparations before heading back down south for the fight.
"Once a pro, always a pro, but I don't skate anymore because of knee injuries," Soto said of his previous life as a skater.
"I started skating when I was really young. It was a way to keep me out of trouble. I grew up in Brooklyn. It wasn't the worst neighborhood, but it wasn't the best neighborhood. I tried to stay away from the drug dealers and the fighting, so I started skating. I wasn't the first, but I was definitely in one of the first groups of Latinos that was skateboarding here in New York, in my generation at least. It went from skating and taking hard slams to me breaking just about every bone in my body that you can think of."
Soto's journey into the combat arts started off the way one might expect. "Loco" Soto wasn't really looking for the discipline that came with training mixed martial arts, it just sort of found him.
"One day, I was a young adult and I was walking past Tiger Schulmann's Gym, and one of the sensei's in there was looking at me," Soth said. "I was having a hell of a f**king day, so I grilled him like 'What the f**k are you looking at?' He told me to come in. Being the New Yorker that I was, I was like 'I'm gonna f**k this guy up.' So I go in there and he says, 'You think your tough huh?' So I said, 'Yeah, what the f**k are you gonna do about it?' He was like 'get on the mat.' I said, 'Let's go, what do you got?' Next thing you know, he puts Jimmie Rivera, current UFC fighter, up against me to see what I could do on the ground. He put me in guard. I didn't know what was going on but I couldn't breathe. So I tapped in guard. He was squeezing my ribs. I tapped and was like 'what the f**k just happened?' Jimmie was like 'that's called guard.' I was like, 'I like it.' Then they put gloves on me and they saw something in me. They ended up taking me under their wing for a couple of years. From there, I just fell in love with fighting. It was a natural thing for me."
Soto had his first amateur fight at age 25. Since then he has competed in 16 different contests to include MMA, boxing, and kickboxing, some before combat sports were legally sanctioned in the Empire State.
"In order to go professional in MMA in New York, you need five amateur bouts."
Because the sport wasn't sanctioned, some of the amateur fights that Soto had competed in, didn't go towards his record. Then as he continued to try to get fights booked, they just kept falling through as bouts on the regional circuit normally do.
"That's when I found a loophole," Soto said. "You can be right off the street and jump into a boxing ring and be a professional. It then makes you a professional in all aspects and all platforms. So, I scheduled myself a boxing match. And... I f**ked that dude up. Then I scheduled another, and I beat him too."
But, it still wasn't enough. Loco loved the competition.
"Then I saw this BKFC stuff, and it took me back to my roots," Soto said. "It took me back to Brooklyn where it all started. That's why I came out here this week, the week before the fight. I'm out here in New York, kind of getting that grit back, getting that dirty hot dog water in me."
While fighting and skating are in Soto's DNA, his true passion is being a family man, a husband and a father to two girls. He also earns his living as a corrections officer which houses some of the state's most violent criminals.
"It's a hobby. It's a really good hobby," said of fighting.
"I'm expecting to get hit. That's a given. That's going to happen. I'm not afraid to take a shot to give a shot, but I think I see things a lot differently than most people. My eyes are fast and my reaction time is even faster. It all goes back to skating. My timing, my judging of distance. I'm able to see things differently, a little quicker. It's going to be fun."
BKFC 19 is headlined by The Rematch: Paige VanZant vs. Rachael Ostovich on Friday, July 23 at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, FL and broadcast on FITE.TV, (8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT) in addition to the BKTV APP for existing subscribers.
Advance tickets starting at $65 are now on-sale through BKFC.com. The Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds is located at 4800 US-301, Tampa, FL 33610. Doors will open on the night of the event at 7:00 p.m. ET with the first bell at 8:00 p.m. ET.