Leslie Smith loves a challenge.
She didn't need to drop a weight class. Hell, her performance against Sarah Kaufman this past April, an extremely close bantamweight battle proved she could hang with the best in the world at 135 pounds.
But a loss is a loss. It didn't matter that she rocked the former Strikeforce champion in the second round and nearly finished the fight. It was time for a new test of her limits.
Thus, the decision to drop down to flyweight. Smith chose not to try out for season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and instead signed a new contract with Invicta Fighting Championships which included a number one contender fight in her first bout of the deal.
She'll be taking on Jennifer Maia this Saturday night (July 13, 2013) on the Invicta FC 6 main card in Kansas City, Missouri and she spoke to MMAmania.com about her motivation, the challenges of the weight cut and getting into character in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's start with the most obvious question. You gave former bantamweight champion Sarah Kaufman all that she could handle this past April and many thought you won the fight. So why drop down to flyweight?
Leslie Smith: Well the weight cut was getting pretty easy for me. I didn't have to use the sauna and I actually ate a pound of fruit before I weighed in at the last fight when I fought Sarah Kaufman. The goal is to be number one, the best fighter, have the belt, all the titles and sponsorships, but the other goal is to be the best martial artist possible. A big part of that is challenging myself in every department and I'll tell you what, this whole 125 thing has been one hell of a challenge.
I challenged myself to go to a lower weight. Another reason is I've got three other women on my fight team in the 135 pound division, Alexis Davis, Sarah D'Alelio and Miriam Nakamoto and they're all competing for the belt. We didn't want to fight each other so I figured I'd try my hand at 125. I know I can compete at bantamweight and do well there but I am all about challenging myself.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So what has been the biggest challenge in dropping down to flyweight? I'll be completely honest, you looked like you didn't have much left you could lose at 135 pounds.
Leslie Smith: Well even if I had a blown up picture of myself and a laser pen, I wouldn't be pointing out the different spots to you right now, but believe me, there was plenty of room for improvement. As far as this cut being challenging. In all honesty, the most difficult thing is keeping a good attitude. Maybe not even that, just not having a bad attitude. It's really affected the way my mind works and I don't think I'm alone in that. I think it happens to a lot of people that have restrictive diets. How much you eat has a lot to do with how good of a mood you're in. It's not weird that when you think of a really happy-go-lucky person, you think of someone that's a bit chubby. My body's handling it fine, it's just all about the mental approach.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You don't view yourself as a great athlete. You're not the fastest and you don't have the biggest muscles but you still put on these tremendous performances against some of the best female fighters in the world. What intangibles do you think you have that really give you that edge to really find success?
Leslie Smith: That's a good question. If I'm not the fastest or the smartest or the most powerful, how do I perform? I think it's just because I am always willing to keep going, to put in the hours. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something and I'm always willing to put in the hours. With fighting, I feel like I can go in there and train and have the mental toughness and tenacity to keep coming back day after day. You can't keep showing up and not get better. I don't know, I think it's just my stubbornness to keep on going and keep trying that helps give me that edge.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When people were making lists of top female talent who should apply for The Ultimate Fighter, I believe you were at the top of a lot of those lists. What were some of your reasons for not trying out?
Leslie Smith: Well that's awesome to hear that I was on so many of those lists. I kind of cut myself off from the internet other than my social media stuff. The main reason I didn't try out is I feel like I'm still a developing fighter and I still had some growth to do. I really appreciate everyone saying how well I did against Sarah Kaufman and how well I did hanging in there but I didn't get into fighting to just "hang in there." It's not an accomplishment for me that I lasted three rounds with somebody, no matter who it was.
I see that as a loss as much as everyone else. In 10 years when no one remembers how the fights went and they just look at people's records on a piece of paper, that's what they'll see, just a win and a loss. That's how it is. I don't feel like I accomplished anything there. Every loss is a learning experience and that's the path that I'm on right now. I really appreciate the amount of fights I get and the constant activity I get with Invicta and the positivity from everyone involved. I don't want to walk away from Invicta yet because I think I can get a lot better and I owe it to Invicta to continue to put on great performances and do everything I can while I'm with them.
Eventually yeah, of course I want to get to the UFC. Everyone wants to go to the UFC. My fighting career will not be complete until I get to the UFC but when I go there, I want to go there as one of the fighters everyone's excited to go see. I don't want to do it as someone that's kinda buried and not fighting every 18 months.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now let's talk about your upcoming fight against Jennifer Maia. She was able to completely control Zoila Gurgel in the clinch during her last fight. What have you been working on to neutralize that clinch-based offense of hers?
Leslie Smith: Well I think what helps me the most is that I'm still developing as a fighter so much. I'm getting better and better every day. I'm not like someone who's been in the game for 10 years and has trouble picking up new tricks. I've got a thirst for knowledge and I'm always working to get better at everything all the time. She doesn't do anything that anyone else hasn't tried to do to me before. Sarah Kaufman is very strong against the fence and she likes to bully people along the cage. Kaitlin Young likes to work that clinch as well and the same thing with Raquel Pennington. Those are three fighters that I prepared for and they all have aspects of what Jennifer Maia likes to do from what I've seen.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the reasons the fans have gravitated towards you so much has been your fighting style. You're so aggressive and you throw so many strikes at such a high volume and you don't seem to slow down. What I want to know is what goes through your head during a fight?
Leslie Smith: It's the fact that it's so much fun to be in there. I wish everyone in the world had a chance to fight in a cage just once. Even the people who find it a bit scary because of course it is scary walking in there but that feeling of being in a cage and punching someone as hard as you can is the most liberating thing possible. It's just a game that keeps on going. They hit you and then you have to change something and hit them. Either you land it and want to do that again or you don't and you have to change something again. I wish all of life was like that.
It's like a real life fight for your life. I know we don't fight for our life on a daily basis any more but a long time ago, we only existed because we were good at fighting. Either fighting or running or growing food. It's a natural thing for us. I don't think there are many things other than eating, sleeping or having sex that are more natural than fighting.
When you're driving down the road and someone does something stupid in the car, doesn't the thought, "If they would just get punched in the face, they'd realize that wasn't a good idea" go through your head? Right? There aren't immediate consequences in real life like there are in the cage. It limits growth. It's such a beautiful thing being inside the ring and every single second spent in there is a chance to get better and to come back with an answer to everything they do or find a new rhythm, something they cant't keep up with. It's so much fun. I love it!
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay this is a complete change of subject but you've brought up on several occasions how much of a dork you are. Perhaps you could fill our readers in on one of the dorkiest things about you that people might not know?
Leslie Smith: Oh god. My mom was just telling me how she has so many of my old books. She started making fun of me because they were about witches and fairies and vampires. I really loved them a lot when I was little But I told her, "Mom, I don't read books about vampires anymore. Gosh! All I read now are dragon books." (laughs) I read a lot of books about dragons. I'm a pretty big dork about that. I'm also not very good at wearing matching clothing, I make really bad jokes. I'm just kind of a dork.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay, back to the fight. When you're visualizing success against Jennifer Maia, what do you picture?
Leslie Smith: Oh man. (laughs) I feel like I'm gonna knock her down, break her nose, maybe drop some elbows. I feel like I'm in such a great place heading into this fight. Nothing personal against Jennifer Maia but it's either me or her. I'm gonna do everything I can to make sure I'm the one walking out of that cage with a smile on my face because I won. If that means I have to get the meanest I've ever been, then great. I'm ready to break things. I'm ready to make things bleed. I'm gonna put 170% into everything I do.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That actually leads me to one last question. You're so bubbly and constantly smiling and self-admittedly dorky....how do you get into character. How do you get into that "killer mode?" Where does the transformation begin?
Leslie Smith: That's a good question. When does it actually turn on? I think it turns on in the 15 minutes right before I walk into the ring. That's because it's building up in the time before that. If you do everything else over the months of training, the crying in the gym to keep going, the blood and sweat and tears that go into it, it all adds up. Maybe I'll have 10 times more of it because there's definitely been a lot more blood, sweat and tears in this training camp. We'll see if that brings a lot of extra intensity into the cage. That's a current I draw into.
When I'm fighting, it's something different for me. I can't go around bemoaning all the injustices in the world like world hunger and children dying and women being beaten by their spouses. If I sit around long enough and think about those things, I want to kill something. I'm really lucky that my immediate surroundings are so positive but I know the majority of the world is not so lucky as I am. So when I go out and fight, it's a chance for me to let out the anger I have at the world's negativity. It's a way for me to change that negativity into positive.
Hopefully the better I do and the more attention I get and the better I get at using my place as a platform, I'll be able to do more about some of those injustices in the world. As of right now, I'm just happy that I can use that anger about it to feed the beast within.
Leslie would like to thank Cesar Gracie, Yuzo and her coaches, She'd also like to thank Loyalty Before Royalty and her boyfriend Kevin. You can follow her on Twitter @LeslieSmith_GF.