Just another fight. It’s a line repeated by thousands of fighters over the years, their way of saying that every bout is important, and that there is no added weight put on their next 15 or 25 minutes in the Octagon.
This weekend, Cleveland’s Devonte Smith will be in Melbourne, Australia to face Dong Hyun Ma. It’s his second UFC fight, his first trip down under, and his next chance to dazzle with his fight-ending power, but yeah, it’s just another fight for Mr. Smith.
“That’s really what it is to me,” he laughs, but it’s far from a dry response from the 25-year-old, who explains his comment further.
“I’m not taking this for granted; I’m taking it all in,” Smith said. “I don’t care how many times I say it, I am blessed. But I don’t complicate things. It’s just another day. I’ve been training since I was 17, first fight when I was 18, I’m 25 now and I’ve been doing this for a long time. The only difference is I got the biggest brand backing me now and I’m traveling the world. At the end of the day, it’s a fight and the only thing I have to do is do what I do best and that’s win and go to the next stage.”
It’s a wonderful approach to a sport that is unlike any other. Be too lackadaisical and you could get run over. Take in too much of the trappings of life as a pro athlete and your performance will suffer. But Smith has found his happy medium, so while he takes every fight as seriously as the one before it, along the way he’s finding some time to enjoy every experience. It’s something Smith owes to UFC vet James Krause, who gave him some hard-earned wisdom when “King Kage” competed on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in Las Vegas last August.
“I will give an extremely big shout out to James Krause,” said Smith. “He was my partner for my Vegas fight and he took me under his wing and talked to me. It was a really nice experience, and he said, ‘Take this in man. I understand it’s a fight, but just enjoy the process.’ When he told me that and the way he said it, it just clicked. It took a lot of nerves out. This isn’t gonna last forever. I’m not gonna be 50 years old fighting, and when it’s time for me to retire, I don’t want to look back and just remember the times of me working hard and grinding and not really taking those moments in and really enjoying the fruits of my labor. So I take it all in.”
It’s a far cry from Smith’s tough days in Cleveland, where he worked countless hours driving and unloading semi-trucks while fitting in training and trying to get fights. At times, there seemed to be no light at the end of tunnel, and he even had those around him questioning his path.
“People have doubted me,” he said. “We weren’t blood, but I had people I called brothers betray me, who really didn’t want to see me make it. I’ve been through all the heartache. I’ve had coaches throw down on me as they were mentoring me, but that has built my mentality extremely strong.”
Last year, Smith found himself in Colorado, and in the process he found a home with kindred spirits at Marc Montoya’s Factory X gym. He still loves Ohio and will rep Cleveland until the end, but leaving town to chase his dreams was a no-brainer.
“A lot of people don’t get out of Cleveland, and you get stuck with that Cleveland mentality,” Smith said. “That’s my city and I love my city and I love my state, but there are more places in the world than Cleveland. People get so comfortable being in one area because they’re content in where they’re at because they’ve got people in the background telling them what they can and can’t do, and they begin to believe that. I’m in Colorado training with the best team in the world and I’m traveling and not everybody gets to do what I’m doing or have been blessed with what I’ve been blessed with.”
In that Contender Series bout, Smith halted Joseph Lowry in the first round, earning himself a UFC contract. Three months later, the 8-1 lightweight was expected to be put to the test in his Octagon debut by veteran Julian Erosa. That win by Smith took just 46 seconds. And now he’s here. Sure, he only has ten pro fights, but he’s the real deal and he knows it, so he’s not worried about any talk about his readiness to battle the best in one of the UFC’s toughest divisions.
“I fight everybody as if they are champions,” he said. “That’s how I do it. I underestimate no one. So say you will, think what you must, I’ma do me, I am king. I do what I please and I’m not really into all that extra stuff. After I win, I go about my day and enjoy life.”
More importantly, he’s taking it all in. And after years of struggle, he’s reached the place every fighter wants – the one where his talent dictates what happens next.
“I’m not waiting for the UFC to call me while I’m working and struggling and figuring out how to do this and taking care of my family and making sure the mortgage is paid,” Smith said. “Now, all that hard work I put in, the only thing I can do now is shine bright and win. That’s all I have to do. I want the belt and I will bring it back to Cleveland. And I’m gonna do it by winning and being me. I don’t want to be a Conor McGregor, a Jose Aldo, an Anderson Silva. I don’t want to be one of the greats; I want to be me.”