The always loquacious and entertaining Leslie Smith appears in the Invicta cage once more on July 13th at Invicta FC 6, looking for her third Fight of the Night award.
Dropping down a weight class to 125lbs for the first time, Smith looks to go straight to the front of the line with a win of fellow 125 pound contender, Jennifer Maia. The winner will get a crack at Flyweight Champion Barb Honchak, and Smith will settle for nothing less than a referee stoppage at Invicta FC 6 to get her shot at the champion.
Corey Smith: You are fast becoming a fan favorite in Invicta FC, with two past Fight of the Night honors. Is that a natural result of your style? Or are you trying to entertain the fans as much as possible?
Leslie Smith: Thank you! I love getting to fight for such an enthusiastic crowd! Invicta fans are the best; whether they are in house, or streaming the fights over their internet, their enthusiasm is palpable and it keeps me amped.
LS: I am lucky in that my instinctual fighting style is very exciting. I have to keep it fast paced to keep myself entertained, the biggest challenge in keeping to a slower pace for me is ignoring the little voices in my head that say “just jump in there and punch her in the face! Hurry up! This is boring!”
LS: I have never consciously thought, “Will the crowd like this?” But I am a pretty big fan of exciting fights so trying to keep myself happy is pretty much the same as trying to keep the fans happy.
CS: Cesar Gracie trained fighters tend to have a reputation of being aggressive and pushing the pace. Do you think that this is a product of a coach training these traits into his fighters or fighters finding a coach that fits their natural style?
LS: That’s a good question, like of nature vs nurture on the GracieFighter team. I think both factors play in to determine the style of fighting you see in my teammates and myself.
CS: How much do you benefit from having regular training partners such as Sarah D’Alelio and Alexis Davis, as opposed to women that have to train primarily with men?
LS: Every fighter that is successful is going to find the advantages to their available resources and exploit them to their fullest, or else they wouldn’t be successful. There is no magical combination of training partners or super secret moves that guarantee a win, there are just fighters that make the most of what they have available and that becomes a skill in itself, making the most of whatever is available.
LS: I benefit from having Sarah D’Alelio and Alexis Davis in my camp because it is motivational for one, but also because they give me a broader frame of reference when evaluating my opponents’ skills versus my own. I can see how everybody Sarah and Alexis have fought matched up to them in the past and compare it to my experiences with Sarah and Alexis.
LS: Another advantage to the close proximity of other fighters that are doing their thing in Invicta just like me is that it is a permanent reminder that there are hundreds of other women trying to take my spot in Invicta. And I like them. It helps make going to practice more fun when you like your training partners.
CS: Training camp injuries are common place in MMA. How do your coaches manage your training to maintain the proper amount of learning but also minimize over training or accidents?
LS: That is quite the balancing act and I am always trying to push the limit. It can be hard to train at the max without injury or overtraining, in fact sometimes you have to fall over the edge to learn how close you can come.
LS: My team of coaches are experienced in each of their different departments and always trying to understand the interplay of all the different techniques used in fighting and training to give me a more cohesive and effective training camp.
CS: You recently decided to drop in weight class down to 125. What prompted this decision?
LS: I have had a very easy time cutting weight the past few fights and if I didn’t explore my abilities at a lower weight class I would feel like I wasn’t pushing myself to step out of my comfort zone. I wonder if some people might think I am looking for an easier fight by fighting at a lower weight. I am know my job is to show up at the weigh ins at weight, after training as hard as I can to get ready for a fight.
LS: When I get in the ring it is playtime so I look at this fight as more of a challenge than any other fight because play time is play time but I am going to have to work harder to get to that point. I have fought at 145 in the past and spent most of my time at 135 but I really want to take my fighting to the next level and to do that I need to challenge myself in all departments.
CS: At Invicta FC 5, you lost a close decision to Sarah Kaufman. Many felt that you should have won that fight. How confident were you as you awaited the decision?
LS: I was very confident I had won my last fight but when I don’t finish a fight I forfeit any right to complain about a decision (if any right ever existed, which I doubt). I have been focusing my training on fighting to a finish and nothing short of a ref stoppage will make me feel successful after this next fight.
CS: Shortly after Invicta FC 5, you signed a multi fight contract with the organization. What motivated you to make Invicta your home for the foreseeable future?
LS: I signed with Invicta because they have belts that I want. I want a belt at 125 and then I want the belt at 135. I am proud to be a part of a promotion that takes good care of their fighters and I appreciate the way they market us.
LS: I think that the more successful I can be, and the more visible to the rest of the world, the stronger an image of femininity I can contribute to. I feel like Invicta is the place for me to do that right now and when my contract is up I will look to go wherever I can keep contributing as much as possible.
CS: Your upcoming bout at Invicta FC 6 will be against Jennifer Maia, in match with title implications. How familiar are you with Maia? What are you expecting out of the fight?
LS: The winner of my fight with Maia gets to fight Barb Honchak for the belt and I have been studying Maia’s fight history to be as prepared as possible. I expect her to bring it, she is an intense fighter, I have no illusions about Maia being the kind of fighter to tap out to strikes. She has been bigger than many of her opponents and she is used to bull dogging her way into dominant positions but she isn’t going to be able to do that this fight. I am prepared to fight her wherever the fight may lead us.
CS: Does the bout having title shot implications carry any extra pressure for you?
LS: I put more pressure on myself to be better than I was yesterday than any kind of title shot implications can hope to compare with.
CS: On the day of the fight, do you have any superstitions or routines that you have to perform?
LS: I like to eat a lot of cheese and tuna and onions so I can be extra smelly so the person will want to get out of the cage with me. Subliminal stuff.
CS: Who generally accompanies you to the cage? And what type of advice do you like to receive from your corners during the fight?
LS: My coach Alessandro Ferreira and my boyfriend Kevin Lum have been at every single Invicta fight with me so far. I get so wrapped up in the moment that I don’t know exactly what Alessandro and Kevin do, but I know it works to get me feeling good and ready.
LS: Sometimes we’re so in tune with each other that they can be yelling instructions during a round and I will execute their commands exactly and afterward I will not be able to distinguish between thoughts of my own and their advice. I am lucky to be so in tune with my corners.
CS: How much MMA do you watch purely for enjoyment? Are there any non team mates that you are big fan of?
LS: I watch MMA whenever I can but to be really involved in a fight I have to have some kind of connection to the fighters. I really enjoy watching fighters who I am familiar with so I always pay more attention when women fight or when people I have met and seen them train fight. So Brandon Vera, Mark Munoz, Jacare, and Manny Gamburyan, are all more fun for me to watch than people I have never met.
CS: What is the best advice you have ever received from a fan?
LS: The best advice I have ever received from a fan would probably have to be to ignore the bad and not put too much value on the good. It wasn’t one particular person that said the two things together but as Invicta fights get more and more coverage and people are paying more attention to me and my fights I have been getting more feedback, both positive and negative.
LS: Luckily, when people are hating there has always been someone around to point out the fact that they’re just being haters. I know that when people are saying good things I have to keep in mind the fact that I haven’t arrived where I want to be yet, and listening to praise isn’t going to get me any closer.
CS: Lastly, MMA is as much a team sport as it is an individual one. Who would you like to thank?
LS: I want to thank Cesar Gracie, Alessandro Ferreira, Jongsanon, Yuzo, Travis Lee and Mark Wine for excelling in their respective departments of jiu jitsu, mma, muay thai, boxing, wrestling and strength and conditioning and helping me get better in each department.
LS: My sponsors, Loyalty Before Royalty, Hella High Oakland, Spighter.com and Brentwood Embroidery and Screenprinting have all helped me in more than just monetary ways.
LS: My boyfriend Kevin is pretty much the best boyfriend ever and I am eternally grateful for his love and support, I couldn’t have gotten here by the same path without him.