What’s going on folks, welcome back to another episode of All Factors Considered. Today I have a guest, today I got the great Valerie “Mal Hija” Soto – She is a 3-3 fighter as a professional in MMA right now, but that record is not indicative of who she is and her potential as a fighter. I think we have the next young Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) gun over here on our hands.
She’s a former Xtreme Knockout (XKO) amateur champion, she has a beautiful walk-off knockout on her record, and we’re just going to get to it – let’s get straight to it.
Derick G: Valerie, thank you for joining the show. I don’t want to waste too much of your time, so let’s get straight into it. Word on the street is that you live, eat, sleep, and breathe mixed martial arts, right? I know you’re in a power couple with Cody Freeman (MMA 5-3) who is fighting for the 145 lb this weekend against Colin Wright (MMA 9-5). How are you feeling right now? What’s the nerves looking like? Are you in straight grind mode, what are we thinking?
Valerie Soto: Well…what was the question? (laughs)
Derick G: (laughs) Are you in full MMA mode at all times? I know you just finished your fight that wasn’t that long ago, it was just a couple weeks ago. You went straight into the camp for Cody over there fighting for that 145 lb strap, it’s strap season! What’s the intensity feeling like? How are the vibes right now?
Valerie Soto: Oh well, you know, obviously he’s fighting tonight so I’m just ready to see him win. I’m ready to get back in there, I’m trying to get a fight in April, like I’m ready to go, so it’s all intense. We try to stay intense at all times. We want to stay ready all the time.
Derick G: Right on, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. That’s one of the things about you as a fighter, your fight style, and talking and doing that stuff, that really shows.
You have a quote if you don’t mind me reciting it really quickly?
Simply, it goes as such:
“Everybody in this sport is trying to make it. If I get a call one day, I get a call.”
That was in response to a potential UFC shot a couple fights ago. Does [MMA] end at the sport? People can want to be a champion in MMA and it can still end at the sport [for them]. Is this a lifestyle thing for you? You said you’re a banger, you said you want to fight. Talk that out for me.
Valerie Soto: It’s a certain lifestyle you have to live. You can’t be in there half-way, you gotta be there full-on. I used to work at Panera Bread part-time, but also had to go to the gym. It was hard sometimes wanting to do it and whatnot, but now I work at the gym full-time and I’m in it. I live and breathe it. I wake up, go the gym, I go get a run in, I go back to my desk job, and then right after that I’m back to training, then I go home, then back to training.
You have to really want it to make it.
Derick G: Understood. You said you were eating a little bit of breakfast this morning, what’s the diet looking like right now? You just fought at 125 lbs, but I think 115 lbs is the home, right? So what’s the diet looking like?
Valerie Soto: Since the fight I actually haven’t been pigging out like I normally do. [Normally] I’d have like freaking sixty sodas, but I actually haven’t been drinking any soda.
I ate a little much last night cause Cody weighed in so he was like ‘I want to go eat,’ so I was like, ‘you know what? OK, we’ll go eat.’ We had Olive Garden yesterday and Hibachi, but we didn’t really eat much of our Hibachi – we were just so full. So I didn’t really eat the Hibachi. And this morning we had eggs, toast, nothing too crazy. I haven’t been drinking soda, which is the main thing.
Derick G: I’m with you. I saw you’ve been drinking some of that Zevia, man. You gotta get that Zevia sponsorship like the Diaz’s.
Valerie Soto: Yes! [Asks Cody] When did we start drinking that? About two camps ago? Three?
Cody Freeman: It was about a year ago.
Valerie Soto: About a year ago we started drinking [Zevia]. [Cody] had gotten a Dr. Pepper last night and I was like ‘watch.’ Cause this past fight camp I told him, I was like, ‘you’re not gonna want it.’ For some reason I haven’t been craving soda. Maybe a Big Red, but we haven’t drank one yet. But I haven’t really been drinking it and when he had it I was like, ‘I told you. Soda just ain’t it. I’d rather have a Zevia right now.’ And he was like, ‘yeah a grape one sounds real good.’
Derick G: I’m gonna put you on – the ginger root beer, that’s the one right there. If you haven’t had it, that’s the one.
Valerie Soto: Yes, I’ve had that one. We haven’t had it in a while, but that one’s good. But my favorite is definitely the cherry cola.
Derick G: Old school, old school. Right on, man. So listen, you’ve spoken at length before about how hard it’s been to book fights these days. You know, since COVID-19 has happened people don’t want to fight, you don’t have the training partners in at Fitness Fight Factory out there in Texas, you can’t necessarily get [training partners] in your weight class, so you have to get beat up by some of the bigger folks, right?
Valerie Soto: (laughs) Yeah.
Derick G: With that being said, you took your last fight against Flore Hani (MMA 3-1), went up a weight class, Hani missed weight by about 4.4 lbs right? But you said you were still game. You still wanted to stay active and you wanted to fight. You don’t lose any stock whatsoever by coming up short right there. If anything, just throw a little asterisk on there. We’re in the young part of the career right now. Get these out the way and let’s keep pushing forward. But with that being said, I kind of want to ask you: You’ve been cutting weight since high school wrestling days, right?
Valerie Soto: Yes, so [when I first started wrestling in high school] I actually wrestled at 128 lbs and I weighed around 121 lbs. So I didn’t have to cut weight. But when I got older around my senior year I started to get a little heavier, but I really didn’t have to cut a bunch of weight, but I still tried to watch what I ate. After high school [I had] the ice cream man across the street so I’d eat a lot. Right after that I got to college and that’s when I had to start cutting something. As I’m getting older it’s definitely a little harder to be more disciplined. I’m still growing, you know, I’m a girl so we hold a lot of water.
Derick G: I’m with you. So what I wanted to ask you though, it’s like, listen, I’m not making excuses for nobody. Everybody needs to be held accountable for their actions, that’s what we do as adults, right? But what are one of the things that because you’re a fighter, because you know what it’s like to cut weight, you’ve been doing this for so long even though you’re only 23. What are one of the things the layman MMA fan wouldn’t quite understand about the difficulty, or something that can make weight cutting difficult? Because Flore Hani, that wasn’t her first time missing weight, not in the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) at least. I think that was her second [weight miss] in the LFA. [Hani] didn’t give a reason [for her weight miss], she said she didn’t have to give a reason and I actually agree. I don’t think you have to disclose your reason [for missing weight], but you need to make weight. That’s what it comes down to. So, what insight do you have on that?
Valerie Soto: I think that we all need to make weight, man. I did hear that [Hani] said it was her time of the month, but that’s something that as a woman you kind of have to already have in your game plan – you have to plan for that. I’ve missed weight before as well, the last time I fought for LFA it was due to the same reason. But it was kind of different because I was on the pill and that stuff really messed with…
Cody Freeman: You had just started [taking the pill]
Valerie Soto: Yeah, I had just started taking it and it really messed with [the weight cut]. But you kind of have to be responsible and take that into account when you’re calculating – when you’re cutting weight you have to calculate everything. I can tell you how much my clothes weigh just because I’m so disciplined on the scale. That’s the thing though, we went up a weight class to fight [Hani] so it’s like [she] should have really been disciplined with [her] side, because I honestly feel like she could have cut more.
We had a deal where she only could weigh 137.5 lbs the next day that we fought, like she had to weight in again. They said that she weighed 134 lbs and I was like ‘there’s no way that she only weighed 134 lbs.’ If [she’s] gonna sit here and miss weight that much and only weigh 134 lbs, like there’s no way, because I weighed that [much]. But you know, whatever (laughs).
Derick G: That’s really interesting and something that I haven’t heard of too much. Maybe in some of the LFA’s or the regional circuits, but how often are there these rehydration clauses in these contracts to fight? Is that common?
Valerie Soto: I honestly don’t know. I can’t speak on it, because I don’t know. You know, this is a first for me.
Derick G: I’m with you, I’m with you. So, listen man. You’ve fought a lot over at XKO, you’ve done the LFA thing right now, obviously with the LFA being connected to UFC Fight Pass it’s just a little bit bigger of a stage. What’s the grand aspirations? Where are you trying to get to? Everybody’s trying to get to the big show, we already talked about that, everyone wants to go to the UFC, but like I said earlier, you said you were living this martial arts life. If you become a champion in LFA, let’s just say, you already have the Ammy championship over there at XKO. Become a LFA champ, move up, go to Invicta, go to the UFC, wherever you want to go. In your brain, kind of growing up, doing this thing, what was the grand aspiration for you personally?
Valerie Soto: The goal is to make it to the UFC. I’m all in. If I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go. But I’m also all about the money too. [It’s] whoever has the better offer, but the goal is always the UFC. But I’m saying like, if Bellator is gonna offer me way more and it’s just a better opportunity then obviously I would branch off to Bellator. But, you know, I’m trying to take care of Cody. I’m gonna be his Suga Momma (laughs).
Valerie Soto: I couldn’t. I see all these girls taking these chances to do bare knuckle – I’ve heard that you get injured less when you’re doing bare knuckle versus MMA, because you hold back a lot of power on your punches because you don’t want to break your hand or anything. I feel like I’m too young, like, I have a full career ahead of me in MMA. Maybe if I was older. I’m not trying to bash [BKFC], but I feel like it’s for the OG’s, for the people who have fought [MMA], but aren’t fighting anymore and they’re retired, but they still want to make that money because that’s some easy money for them. But all the OG’s are doing bare knuckle and I don’t feel like I’m an OG right now, I’m still young.
Derick G: I don’t know if you watch basketball, but they have the Big 3, and that’s for the people who are retired basketball players. So it’s like, go to your geriatric league, go do your thing, let the young guns go out and get it (laughs).
But listen, against Katherine Roy at XKO 44, Kevin Holland was calling that fight and he was kind of talking about how you were peeking out at the crowd, joking, laughing, doing all that good stuff in between rounds. The referee even had to be like ‘Hey, you ready? Let’s rock.’ You said in the post-fight interview that “If I have fun, I have fun” and that’s all that there is to it. When you fought Flore Hani you were a little more Mike Tyson-esque, you were a little more focuses and stoic.
Valerie Soto: It was a little different. I guess I was just more pissed off that she was [overweight], which like I said, I’ve been through that before. But I was pissed off because there was an interview that she had did the last time she missed weight and she was talking down on her last opponent because she didn’t want to take the fight. She was saying ‘we’re all gonna be heavy the next day, I don’t know why [she] doesn’t want to fight me, she’s probably scared.’
So I was thinking, ‘I don’t want you talking crap, I’m ready to go in there and bang. She kind of underestimated me and I didn’t feel in my groove, like I wasn’t smiling as much, it was a little different, it was a little more serious. Also when I saw her walking to the cage I was like ‘Who the heck is this girl? She looks way bigger than [she did] whenever we weighed in.’
Once we started going, she hit me and I was like ‘Oh okay, this is cool.’ I think it also had to do with like, my boyfriend wasn’t in my corner. My main boxing coach wasn’t in my corner. It was just Johnny [Bedford], and I love Johnny, but we’re still growing our relationship so we’re not as close as I am to my boxing coach and Cody. So it was a little weird not having them in my corner, for sure.
Derick G: It’s funny because I think Laura Sanko was calling that fight and even said that Flore Hani was the biggest she had ever seen her in any of her fights.
Valerie Soto: She was definitely huge, like for real. That’s why I was like ‘there’s no way [Hani] only weighed 134 lbs. Her leg was probably like two of mine put together. She was really big (laughs).
Derick G: I’m with you. Not to linger on the past, because the past is the past, and we’re moving forward we’re not thinking about that.
I want to give you a hypothetical Groundhog Day situation, right. Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day?
Valerie Soto: No I haven’t.
Derick G: Well, are you familiar with the premise? It’s just the same thing reoccurring every single day. So here’s my example for you:
If you had to choose from this hypothetical Groundhog day situation, would you rather have every fight for the rest of your career play out like the walk-off knockout in the second round of the Miki Rogers fight? Or would you rather have an absolute war like the third round the Andrea Amaro fight and why?
Valerie Soto: Man, that’s a hard question (laughs).
Derick G: Both of them are great right? It’s just pick your poison.
Valerie Soto: I’m gonna have to say the wars. I like wars, man. It sucks that I go to decision, but I really, really enjoy like – cause that’s what I’m training for. I’m training to go to battle. That’s really what you’re doing. Don’t get me wrong the finishes are great. But I like getting hit and I like punching people – I like the back and forth, I like the battle because that’s really what you’re telling yourself in the gym, like this is really going to be war. I don’t go into fights saying, you know, ‘Yeah I’m gonna finish this person, like I’m gonna go out there and knock them out.’ That’s just never been me. I’m going in there, like okay this girl is coming to rip my head off, it’s gonna be a battle. Let’s bang!
I want to be the female Cowboy Cerrone [Donald Cerrone], like he may not be undefeated or nothing, but man, he’s remembered because he puts on some shows. He’s a banger. So definitely, I think for the rest of my life I wouldn’t mind banging every round (laughs).
Derick G: Right on, yeah Cowboy, man. That’s the People’s Champ and sometimes that’s more important. It’s the same reason why Nate Diaz can go out and sell-out a PPV, well when PPV’s and all that stuff was going on with the UFC though, but it’s beautiful because it’s like listen man, y’all are over here fighting for all these belts, the belts damn near don’t mean anything in certain divisions anymore, what’s up man, let’s rock, let’s scrap, you know who the real People’s Champ is.
So, I respect that and that goes to show that you’re a very – like I said you’re just a game fighter and it’s a breath of fresh air because I’m out here in Portland and we talked about this a little earlier, but I’m from Modesto, California, and I know you’re fighting out there in Texas, but it’s kind of similar vibes, you know what I mean? It’s more countryish, like we boxed for fun at the park, that’s just what we did as friends.
Valerie Soto: Exactly.
Derick G: Speaking back on what I had mentioned earlier, how you’re a little more stoic with Mike Tyson vibes against Flore Hani, how has your mental approach to the game changed since your fight against [Katherine Roy] at XKO 44?
Valerie Soto: It hasn’t changed a whole bunch, that’s why I’m saying like it was so weird how I went out different than I normally do, but I still have that same goofy mentality. I go in there and I have fun. I’m there to put on a show, you know, I’ll waive at the crowd, whatever. I’m always cheesing cause I really enjoy being there.
Derick G: I want to know, do you ever hear it, it’s the second or third round, you’re in the middle of a war, and all you hear is Johnny Bedford [screaming] “COMBINATIONS VALERIE SOTO, THROW COMBINATIONS.” I love [hearing that] in the back, he’s just screaming your full name like he’s Joey Diaz or something, how does that feel? Do you even hear it when you’re out there scrapping?
Valerie Soto: I hear it. You know, it’s crazy because like I said, I didn’t have my main people in my corner. But my boxing coach Rafael Casias – shout out to him – he was in the crowd and I heard him more than I heard Johnny.
Derick G: Wow.
Valerie Soto: You know, because it’s a voice I’m so used to. But Johnny’s like my hype-man. He won’t necessarily tell you ‘throw this,’ but he’ll tell you to throw, like go in there and go for war. He’s a hype-man. He’ll talk crap to my opponents (laughs). He’s like [Impersonating Johnny Bedford] ‘Let’s go bro!’ like he sounds like a freaking pirate. He’s like ‘C’mon! Let’s go!’ (laughs).
Derick G: That’s that intimidation factor you got in your corner, right there.
Valerie Soto: Yeah, one of my teammates was fighting and he was on top of his opponent and Johnny was like, ‘He can’t even spell jiu-jitsu, bro, let’s go!’ It’s just so fun to have him in the corner. But like I said, I heard my boxing coach telling me what to throw. The crowd was definitely far, like it wasn’t close to the cage, but that’s literally the main person I heard. He was telling me to hit her in the pooch, you know, hit her in the body. I heard that going into the second round so I started mixing in my level changes to go to the body. It’s cool and all to have them yelling at me like that (laughs).
Derick G: Right on, man. The Kansas Athletic Commission has been doing some open scoring type stuff, how has that been for you? You go [into the fight] and you know where you stand in the fight, does that effect your performance?
Valerie Soto: You know, that was the first time I had ever dealt with [open scoring] and me and my coach actually really liked that they had that. But for [Johnny Bedford] as a coach it was very frustrating to know that we were down the first two [rounds], like the judges had us down the first two [rounds].
After the first round, I thought I won that round. And I’ll still go back and I’m like ‘yeah I won that round.’ The first round for sure, that was my round. But [the judges] gave it to her, so I’m sure from the coach’s standpoint it’s kind of frustrating, because it’s like what can you do? You have to go out and finish them if you’re down two [rounds].
After I saw that I lost the first [round], I went out in the second and I started off really well, then I started lightening up, which is something that I shouldn’t have done because I feel like every round I had with [Hani] I was dictating the pace. I was throwing more combinations, but the judges like to look at it like Flore Hani landed the more solid punches, but she didn’t rock me, she didn’t push me back, you know, it didn’t effect me, but they look at that stuff.
So the third round, I was like ‘Dang, I gotta go.’ So I went for a little desperation shot (shooting for a takedown) to see if I could get it and her legs, like I was under her like, ‘Oh my God, she’s heavy’ (laughs). I wouldn’t change it, I enjoy the open scoring. I like to know. That was really cool to have that.
Derick G: For sure, and it’s really interesting to see how different commissions are going to judge things differently, right. That’s one of the things that I noticed. You went up a weight class, your opponent comes in heavy. Nonetheless, you’re walking her down the entire fight. The entire fight you’re literally walking her down. I always talk about that in the UFC they do the same thing. Some judges they just don’t like to factor in ring control, octagon control, whatever the case may be, and with that being said I just have a last couple questions for you to kind of conclude this thing out.
You’ve fought in a myriad of different types of shapes in terms of the ring, you’ve fought in squares, you’ve fought in all these different types of things, does that change at all or effect your performance in terms of the way you think about it? Because the fight game is a game of angles more or less. How does a ring compare to possibly an octagon? I don’t know what you train in, do you train in an octagon or do you train in a rectangle?
Valerie Soto: We do both. We’ll do open mat, like a square/rectangle, and then we’ll do some in the cage, you know, depending on who’s there training with me. Honestly, it doesn’t effect me much. It doesn’t bother me, I’ll fight in whatever. Maybe not a ring though, cause you can fall through it, but you know. But I would say that XKO’s cage is more for me because it’s very small and I like to pressure people. Of course, I can fight going backwards, I can fight going forward, I have that movement. But whenever I pressure somebody, it’s like they can’t really go anywhere, they get stuck in a corner. [XKO’s] cage, I don’t know I got used to it and I really like it, but I can also do the LFA’s cage as well because it’s more space, more movement, I get to work different stuff. I don’t mind. I’ll fight in whatever…except a ring.
Derick G: There you go, I’m with you. That means that we have the perfect place for you right there in Vegas up there at the UFC APEX, right? Get you in there and start scrapping. To kind of conclude this thing out Valerie, thank you so much for your time. Just for my own curiosity, when you fought Flore Hani she had Carla Esparza in her corner. I think you were just training with UFC Strawweight Randa Markos or something like that, right? Who is somebody that people would be really surprised that you’re like really good friends with that is a high level mixed martial artist?
Valerie Soto: Oooh, I have a few. Obviously I don’t have like legit female training partners – I have to travel and they have to travel to me. But I’ve worked with Montana De La Rosa, she’s in the UFC at 125 lbs, it’s been a minute since we’ve worked together but I trained with her even before I started fighting, like leading up to my first amateur fight. I’ve trained with Jihn Yu Frey, she’s in the UFC at 115 lbs. I’ve trained with Andrea Lee, you know, I’ve trained with a bunch of people. I’ve trained with Helen Peralta, she’s not in the UFC, but man she’s a dog. She was a BKFC champ, so she’ll definitely scrap and she’ll be in [the UFC] soon. You know, Randa Markos, I’ve worked with her. [Asks Cody Freeman] Who else have I worked with? Sarah Alpar, she’s in the UFC.
Cody Freeman: Julia Avila.
Valerie Soto: Julia Avila, she’s a monster. She fights at 135 lbs, but I’ve trained with her before.
Derick G: Those are all some legit names, man. Julia Avila especially, she’s a straight up killer right there. It’s interesting though, because that’s actually how I found out about you. It was through Helen Peralta. That’s how I found out, because I think it might have been your birthday or something, she posted up a little photo or whatever the case may be. I’m just like man, to see you’re connected through these people and whatnot, like nobody would know, right? Because with social media, we’re a little more private, you don’t have to put everything out there on the internet. Some people do, but that’s not necessarily the greatest look, but nonetheless.
Kevin Holland had nothing but high praises for you, what’s that relationship like?
Valerie Soto: Oh man, you know, I’ve known Kevin since I was an amateur because Cody actually used to train at a gym that Kevin was from called Phalynx MMA and I actually met him through Cody. He’s always been really nice and we’re always joking with each other, like he’s a really cool guy. We’re supposed to go get lunch, I was supposed to train with Randa Markos this past Wednesday, but Cody was cutting weight and I had to be there for him and I had to work, so it didn’t work out. Kevin actually owes me a shout out on social media to get me some more followers…and some food (laughs).
Derick G: And some food (laughs), right on. Listen, last question I got for you.
Valerie Soto: Ask all the questions you want, it’s good!
Derick G: Cody Freeman, right. He’s fighting, he’s getting that 145 lb strap [tonight against Colin Wright]. This is the question for you man, is he getting it by knockout, submission, or decision, what’s it gonna be for this one?
Valerie Soto: [Pokes tongue out at Cody, urges him to enter the camera frame]
Cody Freeman: I’m calling knockout, third or fourth round.
Derick G: Right on, man! I’m rooting for you, let’s go, strap season! But listen man, ultimately, we’re gonna have to get Cody back on here after he wins that 145 lb strap, you know what i’m saying?
Valerie thank you so much for your time, man. I can’t wait to see your next fight. You’ve had the grind it out fights, you’ve had the walk-off knockout, you’ve had to show off some of that submission defense, you haven’t quite gotten the chance to really show off that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, not quite yet, but one of these days.
Valerie Soto: One of these days! I’ve been working on it. Don’t be surprised if you see it in my next fight. My thing is, if I’m beating somebody on the feet, I’m not gonna take [them] down. It’s just wasted energy for me. A lot of people are like ‘Oh, you should show your wrestling, show you base, you know, we’ll hear it from [Cody’s] dad, we’ll hear it from my dad, but it’s different when you’re in there. You’re not gonna want to sit here and take a chance at taking somebody down and wasting energy if you’re just beating them on the feet, you know? But one of these days I’ll show it off and it’s gonna be fun.
Derick G: Exactly, like I said earlier your record is not indicative of the potential of where you can go. A lot of people were calling you the next UFC prodigy like 3 or 4 fights ago. One knockout, 2 decision wins and your only losses are by a split decision and a majority decision. So it’s not like we have issues here going on, we just gotta fix it up with judges a little bit and we’re rocking, you know?
Valerie Soto: Yeah I just keep getting screwed by the judges I think, but you know, like you said, I’m young and if you look at my record I don’t really fight easy people. My losses are to legit people, like Vanessa Demopoulos, she was on [Dana White’s Contender Series], like she was the LFA [Strawweight] champ. What does that tell you? That she couldn’t finish me and [she won] by decision. Honestly, I dropped her twice in that fight so it’s kind of like who really won that, you know?
Derick G: The people know.
Valerie Soto: Yeah, people know (laughs).
Derick G: Yeah, it’s kind of like the story of – one of my favorite fighters in the UFC is Angela Hill, right. And if you look at her record, the record isn’t beautiful, but if you’re actually a fan of the fight game and you actually watch the fights, you’d understand that she should probably be on a five fight winning streak, but she keeps getting robbed by the judges.
Valerie Soto: Yeah, I actually just did a podcast with somebody else last night and they had asked me who was my favorite UFC fighter. And I actually said Angela Hill. Back in the day, you know, when you don’t follow [MMA]…I follow it more now than I did back then. Before I used to think that she was annoying, you know, when she was on the show, I didn’t really care for her like that. But now that I’m respecting the sport even more and I follow it truly, it’s like, she’s probably one of my favorite fighters. She is so exiting to watch, but her decision losses, man, they are debatable. They really are and she’s just a savage for taking these short notice fights, like she does not care.
Derick G: I agree and she’s 36 years old too, man. So to be doing it at such a high level once people start writing you off and all that…I still think she’s a future Strawweight champion in the UFC, man, I’m holding on to that one.
Valerie, thank you so much for your time. I hope to be talking to you again soon and like I said man, I’m looking forward to the fights, so you have a good one alright?
Valerie Soto: You too, thank you.
Derick G: All right, you take care now.
Follow Valerie “Mal Hija” Soto on Instagram: @_mal.hija_ and on Twitter: @mal_hija