Q&A: Leslie Smith fights to promote peace

One of the big winners at UFC Fight Night 113 in Glasgow, Scotland was scrappy women’s bantamweight Leslie Smith. Fresh from a ‘Fight of the Night’ win over Irene Aldana last December, Smith made her 2017 bow with an emphatic second round TKO of Brazil’s Amanda Lemos on Sunday night (July 16). The win took ‘The Peacemaker’s professional MMA record to 10-7-1 and sets her up for another big fight in the near future.

Tony Reid of Fighters Only caught up with Smith to learn all about her inspirational life story and the reason behind her nickname.

 


 

Q: You were a bartender and in food service before forging a career in MMA. You had a life-changing moment that led you in the direction of combat sports. Can you share that story with us?

Leslie Smith: I had been working in bars and restaurants for quite a while. There is a lifestyle that goes along with that. There is a lot of drinking involved, there is a lot of bad food and there is a lot of getting people drunk.

I have integrity. Eventually I didn’t feel confident about what I was spending my time doing. I didn’t set out to become a fighter; I just set out to get healthy again.

I live in Colorado Springs, so I would do a lot of hiking. I quit my jobs working at the bar and restaurant and I started working at a nursery, watering plants for like $5.45 an hour. That’s seriously what I got paid. And I was way happier!

As I was getting healthier and spending more time outside, and being physical, I wanted to go back to my roots. I played water polo in high school. I went and found a pool and, in order to use the pool for free at the Bally’s Total Fitness, I applied for a job at the front desk, for a janitorial job actually. They said I look pretty thick so suggested I become a trainer. They said they would train me. I was a horrible trainer, by the way.

I found out there was an MMA team that trained there. They rented a room for two hours every night, Monday through Thursday. I went and watched a practice for about ten minutes and that was all it took. The coach came over to me and asked what I thought. He asked if I had any questions and I asked, “Do I really get to hit people as hard as I can?” He laughed and said, “Yes.” I started training and had my first fight a month later.

Q: If you could choose one fight from your career that every MMA fan should see, which fight would you choose and why?

LS: I would want them to watch my fight with Jessamyn Duke. That was my first finish in the UFC. I think MMA fans are great. I think that it’s wonderful how they watch fights. Heck, sometimes I even watch fights and think, man, five minutes is a long time! I know what’s going on and I want to get a bite of food from the kitchen or a drink or something. To watch a full 15-minute fight is a lot of commitment from fans.

Q: Your nickname is ‘The Peacemaker’. How does that nickname represent you and your style?

LS: I love fighting; I like fighting intrinsically for the qualities it offers. Another reason I really like fighting is because it puts me in contact with a different group of people. I’m kind of a hippie. I like peace. I like the idea of non-violence. I think that the violence inside the ring or cage is a really healthy thing for society and for individuals. It’s a lot like fire. It’s useful. It’s a driving force and fire warms us. It can be used for protection. But when it’s out of control, it’s really destructive; from forest fires to the damage and harm it does to people.

I feel like violence is similar to that. When we control it, and we have to control it, it’s a part of us. The reason you and I exist right now is because somewhere along the line our ancestors were good at fighting… or running (laughs). We have natural reactions to certain situations and we need a release or a vent for that.

In regular life, in the service industry or an office setting, people can be jerks. These are your co-workers and you need to figure out a way to work with them. It’s not very socially acceptable to go out behind the building and brawl really fast with them and then come back in the building, wipe up your bloody nose and be in a better mood.

Fighting and violence are useful for that vent. Fighting, in a controlled situation, is a very good avenue to get all of that out. So that is the long answer to the question. I grew very fond of the nickname ‘The Peacemaker’ because I feel like that it something I am trying to use, the soapbox I get for fighting, to talk about other aspects of fighting, peace and life.

Q: Who are the people that inspire you most, personally and professionally?

LS: Definitely the guys on the team. Seeing Gilbert (Melendez) come in and train every day… he runs the gym, he’s married with a beautiful daughter, and his wife, Keri, is super-awesome. She is one of my training partners. To see them and to see Gilbert training and being such a successful fighter – and with the life he has built from fighting and training – is very motivational.

I am still at a point where I feel like I need to sacrifice and give things up to get there. For me to reach that level – where some day I have given enough things up and sacrificed enough to start building on that foundation – is the goal. That is the motivation.

Q: If you weren’t a professional mixed martial artist, what would you be doing for a living right now?

LS: I have wondered about that before. I think I would be very nomadic. I would be traveling the world right now. I would have a very, very full passport at this point.

Q: Who are your favorite fighters to watch?

LS: I like watching Rory MacDonald. I think everyone likes watching Anderson Silva. I really never watched fights until I started fighting. I didn’t really know anything about fighters other than the ones I trained with for a while.

Q: What is the most amazing thing you have seen in regards to the growth of MMA?

LS: I think everything Ronda Rousey has done is amazing and super-exciting. I’ll admit at first, when she started training, I was a little envious because of her accomplishments. She went down to train with Nick and Nate (Diaz). I had only just got there. I was still really shy around the elite fighters in the gym. I was going around mopping the mats and sweeping and she walks in and everyone rushed over to her like, “Hey! How’s it going?” I admit I was a little jealous! (Laughs) As a woman in the sport, I am very happy, excited and proud of what she has done in the sport.

Q: During your fight with Jessica Eye your ear basically exploded. Walk us through the exploding ear timeline…

LS: I was draining my ear a lot leading up to the fight. I did an interview after the fight and told them I had drained 300 milliliters and someone kindly told me that was about the amount of liquid found in a soda can. So I was wrong in my initial estimation. It was about three insulin syringes.

I was taking a lot of liquid out of my ear every day and it would just swell up again the very next day. It kept swelling up right along the line on the very front top part of my ear. When we were fighting – I have seen the video now – it’s not like it was one straight punch to my ear. It was actually a lucky punch that grazed my ear and one where her thumb caught that part of my ear that was already weakened. I think it must have gotten hit in the fight and then, when her thumb touched it, the already weakened tissue gave way.

I didn’t feel any of it, though. I didn’t know it looked like that. I was good to go. I was good to keep fighting. It’s not like it was a cut above my eye. I didn’t have a dislocated finger. If you think about the types of injuries people are allowed to keep fighting with… it was just some damage on my ear. I didn’t feel any pain.

I was so angry when they stopped the fight. I realized when the ref and the doctors were standing there talking that they were about to call it. That’s when I turned to the crowd and started yelling. I was yelling that I wasn’t hurt and other stuff, too. When they called the fight, I was bummed, so bummed.