MMA pioneer Soliz dies of COVID complications

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Saul Soliz, a mixed martial arts pioneer who trained some of the biggest names in the history of MMA and helped get the sport off the ground in Texas, died Tuesday morning due to complications from COVID-19, according to his wife, Toi. He was 55.

Soliz, whom many have dubbed “The Godfather of Texas MMA,” was in the hospital for “several weeks” because of the coronavirus, she said.

“He had a long battle,” Toi told ESPN. “He fought really hard.”

Soliz was most recently the head coach at Houston Metro Fight Club, but his influence on MMA goes back more than 20 years. He coached all-time great UFC champions such as Tito Ortiz, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Michael Bisping and Ricco Rodriguez, who was one of his closest friends. Soliz coached with Ortiz on The Ultimate Fighter and had also worked with iconic women’s MMA fighter Cris Cyborg.

“The legacy you left will live on through the lives of all the students, family, and friends you have touched along the way,” Cyborg wrote on Facebook.

Added Bisping in a tweet: “A great man and truly one of the best coaches I’ve worked with.”

In addition, Soliz was instrumental in helping MMA get off the ground more than 20 years ago, working with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to develop the rules for the sport in the state.

“The ties between us in Texas MMA are completely intertwined as it is for the entire Texas MMA community,” UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard, who once promoted shows in Texas, wrote on Facebook. “No one can say they weren’t influenced directly or indirectly by Saul including commission, promoters, fighters and coaches.”

Soliz’s Renegades Extreme Fighting promotion in Houston made its debut in 2000, one year before Dana White and the Fertitta brothers bought the UFC. Toi said Soliz was the first person in Texas to put together a show with “that production value that really you’re accustomed to seeing today.”

“Mixed martial arts is definitely his legacy,” Toi said. “It’s kind of the vehicle for pretty much everything else that he did. In that world and through the lives that he touched in that world, he’s very loved. He’s very respected. And truly missed by so many people. He touched a lot of lives. I know that he touched a lot of lives, but at this point I think it would even surprise him how many lives he touched.”

In recent years, Soliz had been focusing on developing a younger generation of talent in MMA. Adrian Yanez, Soliz’s star pupil, is one of the best up-and-coming bantamweight fighters in the UFC. Bantamweight prospect Mana Martinez, another Soliz student, will make his UFC debut Aug. 28.

Yanez said that Soliz became a father figure to him when Yanez’s father died in 2016. Soliz hired him as a coach at Metro Fight Club and took him under his wing. Soliz’s death, Yanez said, is not just a blow for his family and students but also the Texas MMA scene and beyond.

On Aug. 4, Yanez said he was able to have one last conversation with his beloved coach before things took a turn for the worse. A few days earlier, Yanez was charged with cornering his teammates at a Fury FC show with Soliz in the hospital. The results were not what Yanez was hoping for, and he apologized to Soliz on the phone. Soliz told him it wasn’t his fault and not to worry about it.

“Toward the end of the conversation he just started telling me how proud he was of me, how far I’ve come, how I never gave up and consistently always just stayed true to who I am,” Yanez said. “He was just proud of the man I became. He kept giving me my praises. … I was just super happy to be able to tell him if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I’ve always tried to express that to him at every turn, every corner. Because you just never know.”

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