Louis Smolka laughs when he explains that even before he knew what the UFC was, he was getting ready for it.
“Martial arts is all I've ever done with my life,” said the Hawaiian bantamweight, who faces Matt Schnell in Kansas this Saturday. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be in the WWE because at that time, that was the closest thing to the UFC that I was exposed to. I didn't know that the UFC existed, so I was like, 'Oh, the WWE is the closest thing I can get to fighting for money.'”
So instead of fighting the best 135-pounders in the world, Smolka could have been jumping off the top rope and battling the Rey Mysterios of the world?
“I'm not trying to get broken in half in the Hell in a Cell,” he said. “Our cage has a limit.”
It’s nice to hear Smolka in good spirits, on a four-fight winning streak that includes a submission win over Su Mudaerji in his return to the UFC last November. That victory capped off a life-changing year for the former flyweight standout, one in which he snapped a four-fight losing streak that ended his first UFC run, moved to California to reset, and put drinking aside for good.
Now he’s back in the big show, ready to tackle the best in one of the UFC’s toughest divisions, and it’s far cry from where he was at this time last year, just a couple months removed from a tough loss against Matheus Nicolau.
“I was ready to walk away,” said Smolka of his mindset in early 2018. “I was done and I was over it. I was ready to quit the sport. I had four straight losses, I got beat up pretty bad in my last one, and I was like, 'Man, I'm done, it's over for me. I'm just gonna go drink and hide my head in a hole for a little bit.' But my fiancée Yumi, she didn't want me to give up on my dream. She knew that I wouldn't be happy if that happened. So she wanted me to keep going and she sent me up here. It was hard, man, just being away from her and being away from my daughter. It was a rough few months.”
But the momentary pain turned out to be worth it. Yumi and their daughter Lucy are now with Smolka in Southern California, “Da Last Samurai” has meshed perfectly with Colin Oyama and the team, and after three wins outside the UFC, he got the call to come back in a division getting hotter by the minute.
“You always want to fight the best,” he said of life at 135 pounds. “It is a little bit scary looking at some of the dudes; I look at guys like Marlon Moraes, Assuncao, Jimmie Rivera, and they're huge.”
But the 27-year-old Smolka, who never ducked a challenge at flyweight, isn’t about to do it at bantamweight, starting with this week’s bout against Schnell, who has won two straight after an 0-2 start to his UFC career. And while Smolka will be the favorite, he’s not acting like it.
“I've lost to underdogs before and I've taken guys lightly before and lost,” he said. “I'm really trying hard not to make that mistake again the second time around in my career. I'm just gonna try to go out there and finish him and put on a show and impress the fans and impress the bosses and try to become a star.”
He’s got all the tools to do just that. And now he’s got the love for the game back as well.
“I love this sport,” Smolka said. “It's all I've ever wanted to do and now that my head's cleared, I feel refocused and rejuvenated and I really do love this sport.”