Anyone who has aspirations of becoming a professional athlete in mixed martial arts has visualized an appearance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Count undefeated featherweight Jason Soares among those who dream about stepping foot in the Octagon. However, unlike the vast majority of those who fantasize about the opportunity to compete on the most celebrated proving ground in the sport, Soares will be uniquely positioned to make good on those ambitions this Friday.
When the 29-year-old Soares enters the cage on Friday night at Titan FC 54, he will be looking to defend that promotion's 145-pound crown for the second time. Winning and defending a belt in one of the higher-tier regional organizations is one of the tried-and-true ways to earn a UFC contract. That's especially true when that regional organization is featured on UFC Fight Pass. Check those two boxes for the man also known as "The Specimen." But that's not the only thing that makes Friday special.
When the leading MMA organization is looking to bring fresh bodies into the Octagon and onto the company roster, impressing UFC President Dana White can certainly tip the scales in a fighter’s favor. As the promotion sets up shop in South Florida for UFC Fight Night 150, Titan Fighting Championship will host White and the crew of his show "Lookin' for a Fight" as they scout talent to fill the plethora of fight cards on their busy schedule. "The Specimen" will be one of the many fighters hoping to punch their ticket to the big show by entertaining the guest of honor.
For Soares, the path to the big leagues has been open for quite some time. Many expected his successful stint in Titan to have already opened the doors to Zuffa offices, especially in light of his unblemished professional record of 12-0. Offers from other major promotions such as Bellator MMA and One Championship have appeared on his table during this time, but, rather than take such likely more lucrative deals outside of Titan, Soares has opted to pass on them and hold out instead for the "goal I've had since being a little kid," which is to fight for the UFC.
This isn't the first time that Soares has come close to UFC glory. His bid for a contract during "The Ultimate Fighter 22" was cut short by a two-round decision loss to Julian Erosa in the opening round. Looking back on that failed effort as a lightweight, Soares has no regrets and is thankful to be on the path before him now.
"I'm at my natural weight class at 145 … I've been through more wars. I'm better technically," Soares said when talking to Sherdog.com. He is confident that the extra time to develop and gain invaluable experience will be the difference between simply being a UFC fighter and making a mark in the talent-rich featherweight division.
"I’m not only ready to go to the UFC, I'm ready to go in the UFC and make a title run. I’m not one of these guys that just wants to say that 'I'm a UFC fighter' … My goal is to be No. 1 and get the belt. That's what I'm here to do."
Of course, showing off in front of White and the fans at Fort Lauderdale's Xtreme Action Park will be easier said than done. Friday night still has to happen and Soares has to live up to the potential that he's shown since making his professional debut in 2012. Standing across from him, hoping to take both his featherweight title and his career-making opportunity, will be Brazilian Ariston Franca. As is all too common in this sport, Franca is a short-notice replacement for Andrew Hutchinson, who was originally scheduled to compete but who dropped out of the contest just a little over two weeks out from the event.
For his part, despite any stylistic changes this opponent switch presents, The Specimen has taken it all in stride. "In a very respectful, non-cocky way, I don’t care," he says bluntly. Leaving the strategic planning to his coaching staff at the Freestyle Fighting Academy, Soares is confident that he will get his hand raised and realize his childhood dream.