Braxton Smith was getting ready for a big fight on May 6, the kind of fight that could change his budding pro MMA career in a big way.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, against UFC veteran Cody East.
Wait a second. Isn’t Smith making his Octagon debut on Saturday against Parker Porter in Newark, New Jersey?
He is. And that’s how quickly fortunes can change in this sport.
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“Man, it was surreal,” laughed Smith when asked to explain the time when he posted about the East fight on Instagram on April 11 to posting about his signing with the UFC a day later. “It was nerve-wracking. I was excited, happy. I was in shock, just kind of like, man, is this really happening? So it was a crazy few days, really crazy. We were set on Cody East, getting ready for him and then I got that call…this is what my mom dreamed of for me. So it was really exciting, something that very few people will get to experience, and one I'll never forget.”
Tonya Smith won’t be Octagonside at Prudential Center on Saturday night. She passed several years ago, leaving her son devastated and in no way, shape or form ready to continue fighting. She brought him into this when he ended his football career, and without her there, it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
“I told her I didn't want to play football anymore,” said “The Beautiful Monster” of his origin story. “I never loved football. It was fun, but I didn't enjoy it to where I wanted to pursue it professionally. I did play a little bit professionally, but once I told my mom that, she was just like, ‘Well, I’m not going to let the streets take you.’ She was watching WEC and Strikeforce, and she said, ‘If you don't want to play football, then this is what you're going to do here.’”
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Smith laughs. He didn’t talk back to his mom.
“I didn’t have a choice. I grew up with a single parent, just my mom, and when my mom says something, that's what it is.”
Luckily, Smith was an athlete (just look at the video on his IG account from his gridiron days when he jumped over a defender and didn’t miss a stride after doing so), and with a little streetfighting experience in his back pocket, he put some gloves on.
Three weeks later, the 19-year-old had a fight. In a cage set up in a parking lot at a Hooters Car Show in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Welcome to the fight game, where Smith broke in by knocking his opponent out in 45 seconds for $200.
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Mom wasn’t at the fight, mainly because no one – not even Smith – knew he was fighting that night. But even as his career progressed, she wasn’t there, by Braxton’s request.
“I never let her go to a fight because I didn't know how I would perform with my mom sitting there,” he said. “But I would always tell her about it and she would watch the videos. She was definitely excited, and, by far, my biggest fan.”
But when his biggest fan passed away, fighting got pushed to the side.
“I quit,” Smith said. I stepped away from it for three years and got back into it and fought one of Florida's top heavyweights as an amateur and knocked him out in 25 seconds and then turned pro a few months later and lost to Chase Sherman. I shouldn't have lost that fight, and then, I was just thinking about my mom. It was like, ‘I can't do this without my mom being here. So I quit again. And that time, I was done. I still watched the fights, I still kept up with the sport, but fighting was the furthest thing from my mind.”
The Sherman fight was in 2014. Smith moved from Alabama to Austin, Texas, played a little semi-pro football and then moved to Burlington, Vermont, for a spell to play arena football for the Vermont Bucks. But when his daughter was born, Smith was prompted to give fighting another go.
In May of last year, he knocked Cody Beck out with a head kick at 1:25 of the first round. Four more knockout wins followed, the longest one lasting 2:03. Then he got the fight with East. Then one with Porter. Newark won over Albuquerque. That’s got to be a whirlwind of emotions, to say the least for the 33-year-old prospect.
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“I wrote a vision board down and I gave myself a two-and-a-half-year window for the UFC,” Smith said. “But my first goal was to win all my fights by first-round knockout and win a regional pro title. And I was able to capture that really fast that same year (2022). And I gave myself that two-and-a-half-year window, but I got it there in less than a year. So that was amazing. And I know my mom would definitely be proud of that. I put it down and I saw it and I told myself that I was going to do it and I wasn't going to let nobody stop me from doing it. And I ended up doing it. So that was really cool.”
And with a name like Braxton Smith, you just knew he was going to do something big and let everybody see who he was. That’s not a 9 to 5 name.
Tonya Smith knew it, too.
UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo took place live from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on May 6, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass