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Leslie Smith: Smiling Through Pain

Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith smiles when she talks. Even through the phone, her enthusiasm for not only mixed martial arts, but the media obligations, the lifestyle and the professionalism...
UFC bantamweight <a href='../fighter/Leslie-Smith'>Leslie Smith</a>Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith smiles when she talks. Even through the phone, her enthusiasm for not only mixed martial arts, but the media obligations, the lifestyle and the professionalism of her sport comes through, and is infectious.

“I am smiling right now,” says Smith, who makes her second appearance inside the Octagon against Ronda Rousey protégé Jessamyn Duke at UFC Fight Night: Cerrone vs Miller on July 16th in Atlantic City, NJ.

“I’m enjoying this conversation. I love my job.”

Smith lost in her UFC debut after stepping in on two weeks’ notice to face former Strikeforce champ Sarah Kaufman in April. This time around, Smith enjoyed a full fight camp at El Nino Training Center in San Francisco.

“Hopefully we will go out there and get the Performance of the Night and I will get Submission of the Night on top of that,” says Smith, who left her job as a personal trainer in Colorado Springs and moved to Northern California in search of serious mixed martial arts training some six years ago.

It was her job as a personal trainer that introduced her to the sport that would change her life.

“There was an MMA team at the gym called the Kongo-Do Fight Team and I asked Chuck Daly, the person running the fight team, ‘If I did this, can I punch people in the face as hard as I can?’ And he said yes, so literally a month later I had my first fight and it was a knockout, and I got a standing ovation, and when it happened I felt the energy of the crowd, and for me I felt responsible for bringing that kind of energy, like a musician, or if someone gives a good speech there’s good energy.”

Smith didn’t commit to MMA after that knockout victory and standing ovation. In fact, the commitment shy 31-year-old said she’d give herself just two years to make something out of fighting.

That was eight years ago.

“I made the move from Colorado to Northern California because I needed to be in a more serious training environment, where I can surround myself with people who are accomplished or trying to be accomplished fighters, not just people who were weekend warriors or doing this as a hobby. So I moved and came to Oakland and found Cesar Gracie Academy in Pleasant Hill. There was a fighter training practice one day and Nate Diaz was in there training and he said ‘How’s it going?’ So I said that I would be doing much better if I were on the mat training with you guys and he said ‘hop on’ and that’s when I knew I was in the right place. That’s what I came out here for, to be training alongside people who are professional fighters, and who do this as a serious job and a serious sport, as a way of life. I needed to be around people who are tried and tested and devoted to MMA.”

Now, Smith finds herself for the second time fighting for the world’s most prestigious MMA organization, something that seemed nothing more than a pipe dream a little over two years ago, when women’s MMA was relegated to smaller promotions and looked on as more of a novelty than a serious endeavor.

Then came the all-female promotion Invicta FC, where Smith, Duke and many others began plying their trade in a serious organization whose mission was to spotlight female fighters. And when the UFC got into the action, for Smith, it was the ultimate validation for her choice of career.

“It validated me to my family,” says Smith. “It definitely did. When training for fighting you feel like you have to train every single second of every day, because there’s so much to learn. But then you over train, and you end up hurting yourself, you’re not absorbing anything, you’re always tired, and you have to learn how to train hard but smart. I needed validation on whether or not I was doing all this right, and was I presenting myself in the right way? But when I did get that call it totally validated everything I have been doing. But the game changes constantly so I will always be changing, and getting the validation that I have been doing it right was absolutely huge for me. The second I got a UFC contract my confidence went up ridiculously high. The things that I had problems with before have gone away, just knowing that now I’m a UFC fighter, not just someone aspiring to be one. It makes all the difference.”

In Duke, Smith will be giving up a slight reach advantage, but otherwise believes she matches up well with the TUF alum.

“I saw Jessamyn on TUF and I respect her,” says Smith. “I knew her from Invicta and I always admired the way she carried herself. When it comes down to it, anything can happen in a fight, but as far as skill set, I think I come out above her in all the departments. She is very tall and is a Muay Thai fighter, but I’m really good in that department too, and as far as the wrestling and jiu-jitsu go, I’m good in those departments too. I’m not saying she’s bad in those areas, I’m just saying I’ve been training this for a long time too.”

Training at the Cesar Gracie gym, where UFC champion Ronda Rousey occasionally visits for some mat time with the Diaz brothers, has afforded Smith the opportunity to roll with the world’s best women’s MMA fighter, something her opponent does every day as part of Rousey’s camp.

“When Ronda came through I got in a couple of rolls with her,” she said. “We didn’t do any stand-up but we did a lot of jiu-jitsu and judo and she was way more advanced than me, and it was a really good experience.”

Beating one of Team Rousey’s hottest prospects and recording her first UFC win aren’t the only things inspiring Smith in her next bout. With Cowboy Cerrone and Jim Miller serving as the main event, Smith says she is inspired to open the card with as much excitement as those guys are likely to close it.

“Being on this card and knowing what exciting fighters are headlining, it is even more incentive to go out there and try to make it as captivating as possible.”



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