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From ‘growing up on couches’ to fights at UFC Vegas 67: Coach explains lifelong bond between Dan Ige and Punahele Soriano

Dan Ige and Punahele Soriano always envisioned a time where they could compete on the same UFC card. On Saturday, they will do exactly that in back-to-back main card fights.

Ige faces Damon Jackson in a pivotal featherweight matchup in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 67, while one fight earlier Soriano faces Roman Kopylov in a middleweight clash.

For Xtreme Couture head coach Eric Nicksick, seeing Ige and Soriano rise from the very early stages of their MMA careers to where they are now is a special moment.

“I think it’s one of the coolest stories in MMA right now, positive stories,” Nicksick told MMA Fighting. “You have two childhood friends that grew up together in Hawaii, they went to high school together, that had this vision and this goal for one another at such a young age. They used to talk about this on the school bus. ‘Hey man, maybe one day you and I will be fighting in the UFC together.’

“Having someone that is next to you with that same vision and same purpose, rowing the boat in the same direction, having the same goals, that one day maybe when you’re tired or you don’t feel like you can make it, the other guy is pushing you. I think that’s the relationship you see, that tight bond that those guys have.”

Both fighters made their way through the regional scene, scratching and clawing toward their dreams of making it to the UFC. Ige got there first, and Soriano arrived less than two years later. Coincidentally enough, they both earned their spots the same way — earning contracts on Dana White’s Contender Series.

Nicksick has seen Ige and Soriano grow up in MMA after making the move from Hawaii to Las Vegas to go all-in on their UFC dreams. From grade school, through the land of higher education, to the cages of mixed martial arts, Ige and Soriano have done it side-by-side.

“They went to college together, and then Dan — on a whim — decided to move out to Vegas and wanted to start training here at Xtreme Couture, and he was able to convince Puna to do it shortly thereafter,” Nicksick said. “Seeing these two in the room from the regional scene and growing, now they’re growing their families, so to see these guys growing up on couches to now in the co-main event [and featured bouts] back-to-back in the UFC from where they’ve been, I think it’s a pretty cool story.”

At UFC Vegas 67, Ige looks to get back on track after suffering decision losses in his past three outings. The strength of schedule for “50K” over the past couple of years has been among the most difficult in the UFC’s featherweight division — he’s picked up wins over Mirsad Bektić, Edson Barboza, and Gavin Tucker, and dropped decisions to Calvin Kattar, “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, upcoming interim title challenger Josh Emmett, and the undefeated Movsar Evloev. Now he’ll face another surging contender in Jackson, who enters the bout on an impressive four-fight win streak.

Soriano began his pro career with eight straight victories before suffering his first two pro losses in consecutive fights — a pair of decisions against Brendan Allen and Nick Maximov. “Puna” got back to his winning ways this past July at UFC Long Island when he stopped Dalcha Lungiambula via knockout in the second round. He now faces Kopylov, who was in the exact same boat, having snapped a two-fight skid after an 8-0 pro start with a finish of his own against Alessio Di Chirico at UFC Paris.

Now the childhood and lifelong friends will do battle inside the octagon in consecutive bouts. While Nicksick sees both guys playing it off like it’s just another day at the office, he’s been around Ige and Soriano long enough to know Saturday is much more meaningful than that.

“They’ll say it’s business as usual, but I know [there’s more to it],” Nicksick explained. “Puna is a giddy dude, runs around all giddy like, ‘This is fun,’ and that’s our guy. Ige is very business-like and structured, but then when it comes to knowing Puna is on the same card as him, he’s been super stoked about the whole situation as well.

“It’s got to be a childhood dream for both of these guys. I couldn’t be happier for him. and I couldn’t tell you how honored I am to be in both of their corners and be able to go out and watch them compete.”

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