Andre Soukhamthath: Making History
Andre Soukhamthath announced himself as a legitimate contender in the UFC Bantamweight division when he stopped Luke Sanders in the second round back in December of last year. The Asian Sensation halted a 2 fight skid (both split decision losses) and took on Sanders at two weeks’ notice to defy the bookmakers and set up a bout with ‘Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series’ standout ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley.
‘I called out for the fight when I was in Florida, I got on the plane to go to Rhode Island and see some family and then right when I land, my wife Facetimes me and says ‘you got the fight, I guess we’re going to California’’ Soukhamthath explained, when recalling the moments that led to him getting the Sanders fight. The old adage used to be that three consecutive losses within the UFC would mean you were as good as gone, and the pressure was more than felt by the young prospect. ‘I had heard the rumours that they were making a lot of cuts and I was scared because I’d lost two fights in a row. They were close fights, they were split decisions, but at the end of the day it was two losses on paper. I just wanted to get myself an opportunity, regardless of what the UFC had planned for me and I thought I could just make my own destiny’ he explained.
Some of the best fighters in the world have admitted to fighting better when ‘scared’ or at least when the pressure is really on, and a single mistake can be so costly; Fear was an emotion that Soukhamthath was able to embrace on fight night, and he was able to record that elusive first win in the UFC and earn a new contract with the UFC. Speaking on the emotions involved ahead of the fight, he said ‘Of course I was a bit scared, but I don’t really care about getting knocked out, or submitted, I know how tough I am; it’s all just a fight to me – I’ve lost fights in the cage and I’ve lost fights in school, it’s all good. I was fighting for my job security and the number one thing that I live for right now is to raise my kids with the better things in life – I wanna feed them good, take care of them and this is the way to do it, so of course I was scared to lose all of that’.
As previously mentioned, the ‘Asian Sensation’ will now face Sean O’Malley on March 3rd as part of UFC 222 and Soukhamthath is certainly pleased with the match up – ‘I think it’s an easy fight to market stylistically and as much as I have more UFC experience, he has a lot of hype behind him with the media and fans, so it’s a good opportunity for me to win over his fans and to really shock the world, as it seems like everyone is picking him for this fight’.
As far as pre-fight trash talk can go, Andre said he wasn’t only impressed with his next opponent, but he actually gained respect for him, revealing ‘He actually gained my respect a little bit. I knew that there was a lot of hype around him; I mean he was the co-main event on his debut! He fought a tough, experienced guy in Terrion Ware and he backed it up. I think he did what he had to do to win the fight, we saw him in some trouble, he showed his heart and he proved his toughness. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, but you can see that he’s still working hard and he’s still a real fighter’. Among the niceties though, the 29 year old was under no illusions that it could have been him in the shoes that his opponent now stands in, explaining ‘He did it right, he performed on the show, but that could have been me, I just got signed before him. I could have been on Dana’s little hype train too if I was on the show’.
The first time that many would have taken notice of Andre will have been his split decision loss to Alejandro Perez, back in August 2017 (a bout in which many argued he should have been given the nod); During the fight Soukhamthath continually dropped his opponent but was criticised for opting to showboat, as opposed to looking for the kill and finishing his opponent. Some believed that his next fight would be the type of opponent that would bring that swagger back out of him, but he insists his showboating days are behind him, as he said ‘I never usually showboat, when I see somebody hurt, I go for the kill. I think I was getting a little too comfortable – I was in the UFC, it was my dream and I think I got ahead of myself. I was trying to be that breakout star and that’s what I was focusing on, rather than just fighting’. He insists though, that a lesson was learned and so he would never be as foolish as to act in the same vein again, adding ‘That fight definitely taught me a lesson and although I do feel like I won that fight, I learned a valuable lesson from it too, so I’m kinda glad that things happened the way they did. I lost a second pay-cheque but I learnt a lesson to never do that again. I came home with one cheque, saw my wife and my sons and I realised that I let them down by just playing around in the cage’.
Back in Andre’s UFC debut against Albert Morales, he demonstrated some fierce body punching and really unleashed a mean left hook beneath the ribs of his opponent; the body-shot is often an underutilised tool in MMA, but the roots of the Rhode-Island man mean that he is perfectly accustomed to throwing such a dangerous shot – ‘I started in boxing first so I always go to the body, whether it’s in practice or in a fight. I always try to go to the body at least once or twice and I think guys are starting to get it now. For some guys it really doesn’t matter, it might just set things up because if you don’t have the power to damage there, then you put yourself at risk. I do it a lot better than a lot of other 135ers just for my power alone, and then you add my technique in there on top of that and it’s a real problem’ he explained.
Andre Soukhamthath was barely out of high school when he faced several challenges that would break even the strongest of characters; He was turned from his path towards becoming a soccer player and eventually turned to MMA after some tough tests along the way, as he explained ‘What happened was my girlfriend (now wife) got pregnant with our first son and after that I realised I was gonna have to get a job. I needed to be able to provide for my family and so that’s what I did. My son actually was born in 2007 and he passed away 9 months later; he was born with a skin disease, a very rare skin disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa – only one in every 50,000 babies get it each year, and so I definitely feel like I’m here for a reason, because if it wasn’t for my son coming into the world, then I would have never found MMA’. It’s admirable that Soukhamthath was able to continue his path to success after such a devastating setback, but ten years after beginning his training, he now has the prospect of competing on the main card of a major UFC PPV.
As for why the 29 year old fights, he explained that he is competing for something larger than just his own personal sense of accomplishment; as the first Laotian fighter signed to the UFC, he is able to continue to rewrite the history books and begun the process when he had his native flag emblazoned on to his fight night gear, ready for his walk to the octagon. ‘That was a real special moment, I’m making history. The higher I go, the better my legacy gets and I want to be remembered when I’m no longer in this world and I want my sons and grandchildren to be able to tell this story’ he proudly construed, before revealing his further reasons, ‘. I’m the first ever to win in the octagon, first ever to get signed and probably the only Laotian doing this at this level. My ultimate goal really is just to inspire people, not just Laotians but everybody. I wanna inspire people that have been through something tough or kids that feel lost, I just want to build my legacy that way’.
Before his career is over, Soukhamthath wants to add the UFC title to his list of accomplishments and has no desire to do it the easy way – ‘My ultimate goal is first to be top 10 and then eventually get the title shot, but I wanna get it the right way. After I beat this kid Sean O’Malley there is gonna be a lot of noise and a lot of hype around me – the way I swag, the way I fight, they’re gonna love me! They’re gonna love the Asian Sensation and they’re gonna want me to be the champ, but I don’t wanna do it like that. I wanna take my time, I wanna fight a lot of guys, I wanna get my experience and then when I’m ready and I deserve it, then I wanna fight for the title’.
If all goes to plan then 2018 should be a pivotal year for the ‘Asian Sensation’. After 3 fights within his first 12 months of being with the company, the Lao prospect will look to stay active and continue to make history, as he so proudly has expressed a desire to do.