Eye injury keeps Soto's future cloudy

Things aren't looking as good as they once did for Joe Soto. Zhanna Popova/sherdog.com

There is nothing worse for a mixed martial artist than being forced to sit on the sidelines, which is what former Bellator Fighting Championships featherweight titleholder Joe Soto has to do right now.

“I miss [fighting] a lot,” said Soto, who suffered a detached retina during his second-round knockout loss to Joe Warren at Bellator 27 in September. “It’s really hard not to be able to do what I love in life. It’s like having a blessing taken away from you.”

In the days following the Warren loss, Soto -- a member of the North California Fighting Alliance team -- started to develop black spots in his field of vision, smaller at first but larger as the days went by. After finally relenting and visiting a specialist, he underwent immediate surgery due to the severity of his career-threatening injury.

Recovery from the surgery has been a long process, and the 24-year-old Soto will have to undergo another surgical procedure later this year.

“Immediately after the surgery, it really sucked,” Soto told Sherdog.com. “I couldn’t lift my head for two weeks after the surgery. I could start looking up some after two weeks, but little things would make me dizzy. I’m not sure how long it took for my vision to get back to normal, but I’ve been working out since January. I’ve been cleared to grapple, but I’m not doing any live sparring.”

Before the stunning knockout at Warren’s hands, Soto had won the first nine fights of his career dating back to July 2006. He made his Bellator debut at the promotion’s inaugural event in April 2009, knocking out Ben Greer in the first round. He followed that win with a unanimous decision victory over EliteXC veteran Wilson Reis at Bellator 6 in May 2009 and submitted Yahir Reyes in the second round at Bellator 10 in June 2009 to win Bellator’s 145-pound championship. Soto, who has eight finishes among his nine wins, followed his title win with a first-round submission of Mike Christensen at Tachi Palace Fights 1 in October 2009 and a technical knockout of Diego Saraiva at Bellator 19 in May 2010.

Nicknamed “The Hammer,” Soto wrestled collegiately at Iowa Central Community College alongside a pair of current UFC champions: heavyweight Cain Velasquez and light heavyweight Jon Jones. His transition to MMA had gone according to script, until the injury. While Soto’s eye has progressed since September’s surgery, a return to competition is still a long way away.

“Eventually, like in September, I’m going to have to have another surgery on my eye,” said Soto. “I was told in February that my retina is still attached and in good shape, but we still have to make sure cataracts don’t develop and everything is OK with my cornea. Hopefully, I can get cleared by my eye doctor in the next month or two.”

Whether or not Soto will fight again remains up in the air, but he does not want for his loss to Warren to be MMA fans’ final image of him.

“Whether I fight again or not is still to be decided, but I think I will,” said Soto. “I want to be out there in the cage doing things. I know I can beat most of the best 145-pounders out there, and it’s tough for me to see them out there and not have a chance to take them on. However, I have to be realistic because I’ve got to heal from these eye surgeries. If I can come through the next surgery fine, I hope to be back by the end of the year.”