Devonte Smith wasn’t binge watching anything on Netflix since his loss to Jamie Mullarkey last October. He was busy.
“I watched that fight with Mullarkey like 20,000 times,” Smith laughs, probably exaggerating slightly. “I saw my flaws and as I watched it, I did great. It was just one of those things that s**t happens, and I couldn't sit on it for too long. ”
After a strong start against the Aussie, Smith got halted in the second round. It was his second loss in his last three after a 2-0 start to his UFC career, and while he bounced back with a win over Justin Jaynes after a 2019 defeat to Khama Worthy and took en extended break, following the Mullarkey fight, he wanted back in ASAP.
“Once my ribs healed and my orbital fracture healed and my cheekbone fracture healed, I was like, you know what, I want to get back to it,” said Smith, who sounds like he left Las Vegas with more than a couple bumps and bruises.
“I don't like to say too much because you don't want to sound like you're making excuses, but three weeks prior to the fight, I popped a rib and I was basically just training very softly because I didn't want to injure the ribs,” he admits. “And then even after that I still kinda messed them up, so when I went into that fight, it was the mentality of, f**k it, we're here, it is what it is, I gotta do what I gotta do to get what I want to get.”
It’s a fighter’s attitude, and one shared by most of Smith’s peers. To them, the biggest fight is often just getting to the Octagon healthy enough to compete. It’s the price to pay in a sport where training to fight requires fighting, to a certain extent. And for those like Smith, if they can walk and throw punches and kicks, they’re in.
“Especially when you put a lot of time in, it gets to the point where it's like, s**t, I'm a fighter and this is what I do,” he said. “We work through injuries, we work through goofy things that happen during practice or outside. Some people fight with torn ACLs and MCLs. It's a mental thing. You get to the point where you just shut off the pain. I just sucked it up, and even with the messed up rib, I feel like I did great. There were a couple things that I needed to work on but, again, I don't feel like those things had anything to do with the result.”
Not letting the setback hold him down, Ohio’s Smith knew that the quickest way to forget about a loss was to get a win, so five months after his last fight, “King Kage” will be back in the Octagon this Saturday to face Ludovit Klein, who stepped in on short notice for Erick Gonzalez. It’s a pivotal bout for the 28-year-old, but he finds inspiration in some of his peers who have shaken off setbacks to achieve great things in the sport.
“I'm just more mature in seeing how the fight game is and seeing how s**t can happen,” said Smith when asked where his head is at entering this weekend’s bout. “Mullarkey did a great job with kicks and just staying composed and I did a great job with what I did, but I got caught by a knuckle, which fractured my orbital. But you gotta take things on the chin and just keep it moving. (UFC lightweight champion Charles) Oliveira, he lost a lot of times - knocked out, caught elbows by Paul Felder, and now he's the champion. So looking at that man, it's like if he can do it, why can't I? Brandon Moreno got cut from the UFC, fought in the regional league for a little bit and came back and he became champion. If he can do it, why can't I?”
Why not, indeed? Smith certainly has the talent, power and determination to get to the top of the lightweight ladder. He just needs to keep pushing, keep moving forward and keep a good balance between the fighting life and life outside the Octagon.
“I stepped in this river before,” Smith said. “I've been through a lot, had to deal with a lot of mental stuff and breathing and meditation and getting everything solved. So it's just another day. Life goes on. I'm dealing with things and coping with things in a healthy way. I look at 2022 just as another year. I'm taking it a fight at a time and I'm taking it a day at a time and focusing on what's important right now, rather than focusing so much on the future. I'm in the UFC. I told everybody I was gonna be in the UFC at 14 and I made it at 24. So if I can do that, I'm gonna do the same thing now. Say what I need to say, put it out there, manifest it and just focus on the now.”
And on Saturday?
“15 minutes, let's go.”
UFC 272: Covington vs Masvidal took place on Saturday, March 5, 2022, live from a sold out T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.