Taking a step up in competition, Leslie Smith is eager to enter the cage with former World Champion, Sarah Kaufman on April 5th at Invicta FC 5.
A three time Invicta veteran, Smith will look to capitalize on her biggest opportunity to date, and climb the rungs of the 135lb ladder. A lover of botany, she will attempt to plant a big one on Sarah Kaufman April 5th, and continue her growth towards the top of the 135lb division.
Corey Smith: You began your MMA training cold turkey so to speak, at a gym in Colorado Springs. You took your first amateur bout a little over five years ago. How long from the point you began training until you took that first bout?
Leslie Smith: I trained for two weeks before my coach asked if I wanted to take a fight three weeks later. I had been bummed that I was going to have to wait for three months to take a fight because I realized that if I was going to get good it was going to take a lot of devotion. If I was going to be devoted I wanted to make sure I liked fighting. So I was really excited when the opportunity to get into the cage came up so soon.
LS: I was a little worried that my lack of skill made the fight more of a freak show than a display of fighting ability. My coach at the time, Chuck Daly, said that a good fight is determined by how well the fighters match up, and I have seen that proven many times.
LS: The first fight I was offered was a total of 5 weeks after I started training. She was in better shape than me and everybody said they thought my coach was leading me to a slaughter, but I knocked her out in the second round. I got a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd and a sponsor offered to give me $300 a month. Needless to say I was ecstatic and hooked.
CS: How soon did you get the nickname “The Peacemaker?” And how did a nickname that seems like a contradiction come about?
LS: I know fighters aren’t supposed to pick their own name but I was tossing around names for literally years and when somebody suggested ‘Peacemaker’ I really liked it. I like all the contradictions in it and the fact that it can have a meaning to almost everybody. Lots of people call their gun, their bat, or their power punching hand their peacemaker.
LS: I am a big fan of peace and down on passive violence. I think it is a lot healthier to get out aggressions in the ring or cage or cardio kickboxing class than to let them fester and manifest themselves in destructive behavior to ourselves, our friends, families and community members. Even being a spectator to fights provides an outlet for the frustrations and aggressions that we all feel and outlets are necessary to prevent major blowouts. I also think sometimes you need to fight for peace inside your own mind and in the world. Women still have to fight for respect and we all have to fight for the people that can’t fight for themselves.
CS: At what point did you join the Cesar Gracie Fight Team, and how did that come about?
LS: My second pro fight was against Kerry Vera, Brandon Vera’s wife, on a Bellator card. I wasn’t prepared to fight at that level and I decided that if I was going to call myself a professional I had better train like one. I didn’t find the cohesion in my training that I wanted in Colorado Springs so I moved to the Bay area.
LS: My aunt lives in Oakland and she said I could come live with her, and train. I Googled all the fight schools in the area and decided to go to as many of them as I could for a free week to scam free training, unfortunately they all charged a drop in fee.
LS: I read a Sherdog post about the CesarGracieJiuJitsuAcademy and on their website they had a picture of Jake Shields. I decided that if Jake’s picture was any indicator of the rest of the team, I would at least be working with good looking guys! I came for a day, saw that they were legit and focused and had practices twice a day, which was what I decided was my minimum, and stuck around.
CS: Along with yourself, Alexis Davis, and Sarah D’Alelio are also members of the team. How much do you benefit from having such talented women in and around the gym every day?
LS: I am very lucky to have such talented and established fighters around me to train with. I just worked with Alexis this morning, and she fought Kaufman recently so she had a lot of information for me. I get to work with Alexis Davis, Sarah D’Alelio, another woman you’ll see at Invicta 5, Mariam Nakamoto, and Jennifer Tate. There is a wealth of knowledge and fight experience that I can tap into.
CS: Has there been a non-team member that you have trained with that has impressed you?
LS: I got to go down to Huntington Beach and work with Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos. She is super impressive in all departments and I learned a lot from spending just a little bit of time with her.
CS: Other than weight cutting, what is the biggest challenge in the sport of MMA for you personally?
LS: There is a balance of humility and confidence that is important to maintain, it’s like pulling a string in two different directions and trying to keep it level even though you’re standing with each foot in a different boat. It is important to stay humble because that’s how I stay open to learn things and find challenges in dealing with every training partner. It is also important to be confident because confidence is key. When you believe in yourself you can do anything.
LS: When I start a training camp I focus the most on learning new skills and so the humility is important but I still have to be confident in the skills I already have. When I am at the end of the training camp I have to have confidence in everything I do and everything I have learned but I am sparring with beasts and it takes humility to be comfortable with getting smashed. I train with UFC fighters, Jiu Jitsu world champions, pro boxers, and champion Muay Thai fighters, so I am good at dealing with being uncomfortable.
CS: You have fought on Invicta 1, 3, and 4, along with being scheduled to fight Sarah Kaufman on Invicta FC 5 in April. What makes Invicta different from other MMA organizations?
LS: Invicta takes care of their female fighters, we aren’t just an afterthought thrown onto the card to attract a few extra ticket buyers. I had my doubts about fighting on an all-female card in the beginning but I am so happy with Invicta and the opportunities they have afforded me. I have an extra reason to fight hard now; to show my appreciation to them.
CS: With respect to your previous opponents, Sarah Kaufman represents a leap in competition for you. What excites you about this fight and what do you expect from Kaufman?
LS: I expect Kaufman to bring it. I’m not going to have to chase her around the cage, she will be there whenever I want and that is exciting to walk into a fight knowing. I look forward to Kaufman bringing out the best in me and I am looking to bring out the best in her. She is a very accomplished fighter and I am eager to show how bad I want it.
CS: When you aren’t training, what type of things do you enjoy doing? What helps you unwind after a long day of training camp?
LS: I like to read a lot, books about dragons and historical fiction and most recently two awesome books have been The Botany of Desire and Born To Run. I like to garden, and play with my dogs and go hiking. I’m lucky to have a wonderful boyfriend who I love to hang out with so my time is always happily occupied. I can’t remember the last time I said I was ‘bored’ and I laugh thinking that I was foolish to ever think there ‘wasn’t anything cool to do’.
CS: You’ve mentioned that you have a love of gardening and botany. What draws you to those hobbies?
LS: The truth of the growth cycle of plants is a calming influence on my soul. There is an honesty is growing plants that interactions with humans just can’t imitate.
CS: Lastly, MMA is equally a team sports as it is an individual sport. Who would you like to thank?
LS: I want to thank my coaches Alessandro Ferreira and Mark Wine for working with me every single day. I can’t name all people who have helped me but pretty much everybody that is part of the GracieFighter team, especially the Skrap Pack faction, has made me better.
LS: Cris Cyborg opened the doors of her camp to help me. Gilbert Melendez is super supportive even though he has a title fight coming up, he has still been helping me, same thing with Nathan Diaz. Of course I have to thank Cesar Gracie.
LS: My sponsors Loyalty Before Royalty, Hella High Oakland, Dirty Pirate Skate Shop, Brentwood Embroidery, and Sip Moscato are all awesome!