Andre Soukhamthath knew relocating to Florida would be beneficial to his career. He just never knew it'd be this difficult.
Since packing up his family and moving to Boca Raton, Fla., to train with the renowned Blackzilians, the Woonsocket, R.I., native Soukhamthath (8-2, 4 KOs) has been forced to readjust his philosophies and priorities, important steps in his development as he prepares for his AXS TV debut on the main card of "CES MMA XXVIII" Friday, March 13th, 2015 at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I.
"I had a little talk with one of my coaches and he said to me, 'You know what? When you go home to fight, you've got to forget everything and just focus on the fight. Just relax. Don't leave the hotel or wherever you're staying.' He's right," Soukhamthath said.
"I'm there for business. I need to handle my business and then come home. I try to see everybody when I'm up here, but this is my career. I really need to handle my business now."
Soukhamthath will face New York native and Bombsquad vet Brian Kelleher (11-7, 5 KOs) in a three-round bantamweight bout, a fight originally scheduled for January until Soukhamthath wound up with the flu during his extended stay in Rhode Island. It's all part of the learning process. Instead of heading north a week earlier, Soukhamthath will land in the Ocean State the night before the weigh-in to avoid any issues with the climate change.
"It was a sign that it wasn't my time to fight," he said. "This time, it definitely is."
The opportunity to fight in front of a worldwide audience is long overdue for the hard-working Soukhamthath, who won seven consecutive fights under CES MMA's guidance before a narrow defeat to Kin Moy in January of 2014. His return to form in a submission win over Thomas English in October coincided with CES MMA's budding relationship with AXS TV; with three more nationally-televised events scheduled for Twin River in 2015, Soukhamthath could get more opportunities to broaden his horizons in front of a much larger audience.
"I've waited a long time for this," he said. "I think it'll bring out the best in me. This is a good opportunity to expose myself and gain some new fans.
"A win would be big, especially a win in big fashion. Whether it's TV or not, I'm always going for the finish. I have that swag for Asian Americans and hopefully I can gain more Asian American fans throughout the nation, even fans in other countries. I just want people to see me following my dream. I'm never going to change. Hopefully, people will like me."
Kelleher could benefit from the same exposure. He's no stranger to the big stage, having fought twice for Bellator in his four-year career, and is convinced Soukhamthath has "openings I can exploit" from what little film he's watched.
"He seems fairly comfortable with his standup, but he gets into wild exchanges sometimes," Kelleher said. "I've got a feel for him, but every fight is different. I just know I can exploit his weaknesses."
"I'm just going in there and doing my thing," Soukhamthath countered. "I don't really worry about what the other guy is doing."
Kelleher last fought in November, choking out hometown favorite Mark Cherico in Pittsburgh, but the thrill of handing his opponent the first defeat of his career doesn't compare to the exposure he could gain from dethroning Soukhamthath on national television in front of a rabid crowd at Twin River.
"I'm looking for fights that will propel me to the top," he said. "I just haven't been out there that much lately. I need to step up for things to happen. This is a good start. I have some momentum now."
After being unable to compete in January, Soukhamthath also hopes momentum is still on his side. He's matured since moving to Florida, not just as a fighter, but as a professional, learning to handle the ebbs and flows of the sport and focusing on what matters most when it's time to step inside the cage.
"When I lost, I felt like it was the end of the world," Soukhamthath said, "but I train my ass off for every fight, so I know if someone beats me they must've worked hard, too. Sometimes you can't get the nod from the judges. I won't bitch and cry about it. I'm just going to move forward, tweak a few things and keep doing what I'm doing.
"I won seven fights in a row. Now I'm with the Blackzilians under their system. I feel like no one can beat me. I'm the same fighter with the same killer instinct, but I've got some new tools under my belt. I'm thinking differently as a fighter."
Tickets for "CES MMA XXVIII" are priced at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 and available for purchase online at www.cesmma.com or www.twinriver.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
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