With former CES MMA champ in his corner, Soriano aims for championship glory Friday night at Twin River

PROVIDENCE, R.I.– As Sean Soriano inches closer to his first world title fight Friday night at Twin River Casino, it’s impossible for the Providence, R.I., native to temper his excitement.

The team is stronger than ever, anchored by his closest friend, Andre Soukhamthath, himself a former CES MMA world champion now contending among the best bantamweights in the world for the UFC.

Soukhamthath, along with his father, renowned Muay Lao coach William Soukhamthath, will once again corner Soriano (11-5, 5 KOs) on Friday, Aug. 3rd, 2018 when he faces Maine’s Bruce Boyington (15-11, 7 KOs) for the vacant CES MMA World Featherweight Title in the five-round co-main event of “CES MMA 51” live on AXS TV.

“That guy is one of most humble people I’ve ever met in this world,” Soriano said of Soukhamthath, who vacated CES MMA’s featherweight title when he signed with the UFC in 2017. “Seeing him fulfill his dreams gives me motivation to try to catch up. Seeing him flourish is amazing. His father is one of my first trainers. He’s the first one to ever hold pads for me. It’s nice to have them in my corner for this fight.”

There’s an unbreakable bond between the younger Soukhamthath and Soriano, built through years of friendship, loyalty and oftentimes difficult conversations between the two as they motivate one another both in and out of the cage.

Soriano set the standard at the age of 23 when he became the first Rhode Island-born fighter to earn a UFC contract following wins in each of his first seven fights. At the time, Soriano lived in southern Florida, where he trained with the Blackzilians, a renowned MMA team lauded for the development of former UFC champions Vito Belfort and Rashad Evans.

The experience at the top of the ladder was a dizzying, short-lived one for Soriano, who lost his first three fights with the promotion and was subsequently released a little over a year later. His closest friend, Soukhamthath, had just suffered a setback of his own, losing to Brian Kelleher at “CES MMA 28” in March of 2015. That’s when Soriano convinced Soukhamthath it was time to think outside the box and join him in South Florida to work alongside some of the best fighters and trainers in the world. Soriano knew it was the only way Soukhamthath would reach that next level.

“I whooped his ass a little bit and then he knew, ‘OK, it’s time to upgrade training partners,'” Soriano said with a laugh.

“He’s the reason I came down here,” said Soukhamthath, who still lives and trains in Boca Raton even with the original Blackzilians all but dismantled at this point. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable. It brought us closer. This experience has opened so many doors for me, the people he’s introduced me to. I’ve made relationships with people who I value tremendously, and it’s all because of him.”

Within two years, Soukhamthath finally got the call when the UFC booked him in a last-minute bout against Albert Morales at UFC 209 in Nevada. Nine months later, he earned his first win with the promotion and subsequently signed a new five-fight extension.

Even with so much going on in life, from his newfound success in the cage to his family life at home with his wife and two sons, Soukhamthath continues to help Soriano in his own quest to return to the UFC. If he thinks Soriano is cutting corners in his preparation, he has no problem speaking his mind. That’s the kind of relationship they have.

“That’s better in my opinion,” Soukhamthath said. “Then you realize who really cares and who doesn’t.”

The roles have reversed in the sense that Soriano now looks up to Soukhamthath as the measuring stick for where he wants to be live, both personally and professionally.

“He’s on a different path than me,” Soriano said. “He has a family, a house. It’s a different path, but we help each other. He knows I have very big dreams and very big goals.

“Seeing him buy a house kind of rubs off on me. Seeing him as a father, that’s the biggest thing I respect about him. Me and my father never really had that relationship.”

For Soriano, it’s about loyalty and staying true to the people who’ve stayed by his side through thick and thin. He realized friendships are fleeting in combat sports — or all professional sports, for that matter — and it can get awfully lonely once the success tapers off.

“When I got signed to the UFC, my phone did not stop ringing for two days. Calls, texts, Facebook messages. Then after every loss, it was a little less. After I got cut, I got three or four texts. It was like God giving me a sign, telling me who I need to cut off.”

The Soukhamthaths remained loyal and continue to guide Soriano down the right path. Today, Soriano is much older and certainly wiser than he was at 23 trying to handle the stress and the newfound fame associated with a UFC contract, even if he’s “1,000 percent” more guarded then before. The way he sees it, the timing is right for a return to the UFC. He’s better equipped to handle what’s expected of him.

“I will never be satisfied with just being there,” he said. “The goal is to get back, get a big run in the UFC and get a title there, too. I like belts.

“What I went through after getting cut, not a lot of fighters will bounce back from that. I had to do a lot of digging down deep inside, even reevaluate some friends, people who only come around when you get some shine.

“I had to mature. Life outside the cage is good.”

As for Boyington, Soriano admits he hasn’t done much studying outside of a few fights, nor does he intend to get bogged down by too much detail. Boyington last fought for CES MMA a year ago at “CES MMA 45” against Nate Andrews, now the reigning CES MMA World Lightweight Champion who also defends his title on Friday night.

“He fought Nate, but Nate is a different fighter with a different game plan,” Soriano said. “You just have to worry about his stupid, flashy kicks. He has good cardio. That’s the only thing about him that’s intimidating, if you can even call it that.

“If you’ve seen me fight, I have pretty good kicks of my own and they’re a lot harder. We’ll see how he can take mine also.”

Each fight is its own entity, but the true constant is the support Soriano has from his lifelong friend, whom he considers a brother — “My kids call him Uncle Sean,” Soukhamthath — and the team that’s been with him from the start. Loyalty is fleeting in MMA with some fighters switching camps whenever they lose, but Soriano knows who he can count on the most. They’ll be with him again Friday in the biggest fight of his career.

“Loyalty goes a long way. You’ll have wins and losses in this game. That’s the guarantee,” Soriano said, “but some people like to switch people around when they lose. You’ve got to stay loyal to the people that are loyal to you.”

Added Soukhamthath: “Whether he wins or loses, I’m always behind him. I’m always on team Soriano. We’re just kids from Rhode Island coming from nothing. He’s not done yet. We’re in this together. One day, one of us is going to be the main event at [The Dunkin’ Donuts Center] and the other is going to be the co-main event. I really believe that.”

Tickets for “CES MMA 51” start at $44.00 and are available online at www.cesmma.com, www.twinriver.com or www.cagetix.com, by phone at 401-724-2243 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club.

Andrews (13-1, 5 KOs), of East Providence, R.I., defends his title for the first time in the main event when he faces challenger D’Juan Owens (16-11-1, 4 KOs) of Durham, N.C.

The two title bouts are part of a six-fight main card beginning live at 9 p.m. ET. The preliminary card begins at 7.

Also on the main card, Hollis, N.H., bantamweight Dylan Lockard (3-1, 1 KO) makes his fourth CES MMA appearance when he faces Eria, Pa., vet Brandon Seyler (8-6, 1 KO). Lockard looks to rebound from a loss at “CES MMA 48” in February while Seyler searches for his second consecutive win in his fourth appearance with the promotion. Seyler earned his first and only win with CES MMA at “CES MMA 45,” submitting fan-favorite Kris Moutinho 3:08 into the opening round.

Moutinho (5-2, 2 KOs), a Milford, Mass., native, also fights on the main card as he aims for his sixth career win and second in a row. Moutinho faces Fayetteville, N.C., native Da’Mon Blackshear (5-1).

Lightweight Lewis Corapi (7-3, 3 KOs) of Medford, Mass., ends a 21-month layoff in a comeback bout against Le Roy, N.Y., native Jacob Bohn (6-5, 1 KO), also on the main card. Aug. 3rd is Corapi’s sixth appearance with CES MMA. He last fought in November of 2016, defeating Vovka Clay by unanimous decision, and last fought for CES MMA in June of 2010 in a lightweight showdown against former title-holder Julian Lane. Bohn narrowly defeated Kenny Foster by split decision in May at “CES MMA NY 1” in Long Island in a thrilling, back-and-forth battle.

Featherweight Blair Tugman (10-7) of North Haven, Conn., joins Corapi in fighting for the first time in nearly 12 months when he rounds out the main card in a showdown against two-time CES MMA vet Shane Manley (4-3) of Cortland, N.Y. Manley last fought in February at “CES MMA 48” when he beat Lockard by unanimous decision. Tugman, an eight-time Bellator vet, has won three of four overall, but hasn’t fought since August of 2017. Aug. 3rd will be his third appearance with CES MMA and first since 2013 when he faced Soukhamthath at Twin River.

The preliminary card features the return of fan-favorites Hilarie Rose (1-1) of Norfolk, Mass., and unbeaten light heavyweight Fabio Cherant (2-0) of Wrentham, Mass. Cherant faces Maine’s Buck Pineau (1-5) while the flyweight sensation Rose steps back in the cage less than two months after earning her first career win at “CES MMA 50” in a flyweight bout against Louisiana’s Ivana Coleman (1-3)

Also on the preliminary card, bantamweight Jesse Pires (0-1) of Fall River, Mass., battles Jeff Silva (1-3) of nearby Lawrence. Pires aims to rebound from a loss in his pro debut against Michael Taylor at “CES MMA 46.” Silva split his last two bouts, including a win over Kenny Rodriguez in June of 2017 in New Hampshire.

West Haven, Conn., female atomweight Marissa Messer-Belencia (1-0) makes her long-awaited CES MMA debut against Los Angeles vet Kaiyana Rain (1-3) and heavyweight Eric Bedard (6-7, 4 KOs) of Providence returns to the cage for the first time since 2016 when he battles Ras Hylton (2-1, 2 KOs) of Augusta, Maine.

Bedard boasts seven appearances with CES MMA over the span of five years, starting with his debut at “CES MMA 8” in 2011 and continuing with his epic trilogy against regional rival Tyler King. Hylton debuted with CES MMA on the landmark Long Island venture in May against New Yorker Jahsua Marsh.

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