DGS Main Event MMA Most Underrated Fighter of the Year: Leslie Smith
When you think of Leslie Smith, you probably think, “Oh yeah, the female MMA fighter, right?”
If you’ve been around the MMA scene long enough, you remember how much of a staple she was to the all-female fight promotion, Invicta FC. During her nearly two years with the promotion before making her UFC debut in 2014, Smith earned four “Fight of the Night” honors.
When now-UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes was forced out of her bout with Sarah Kaufman at The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale: Bisping vs. Kennedy, Smith returned to bantamweight to face Kaufman for her UFC debut, where she came up short on an unanimous decision.
Prior to 2016 though, the last image you probably have of Smith is her ear exploding in her fight with Jessica Eye at UFC 180 in November of 2014. Yup. That’s her.
Even with blood literally pouring everywhere from her destroyed cauliflower ear (Image shown above: Probably should of given you a heads up on that one), Smith aggressively pleaded with the doctors to let the fight continue. Unfortunately for her, the bout was stopped early in the second frame via doctor stoppage.
With literally all of 2015 off from the octagon, Smith made her return at UFC Fight Night: Mir vs. Hunt earlier this year in March where she picked up an unanimous decision victory over Rin Nakai.
Her next move though, is what I feel, really makes her the most underrated fight of the year.
Smith stepped up to face arguably the #1 women’s MMA fighter in the world in her UFC debut, Invicta’s Featherweight champion Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino, at a catch-weight of 140-pounds at UFC 198 in Brasil. Many predicted that Cyborg would get one of the larger names in the UFC once she joined the promotion. When it was announced that Smith not only accepted the fight, but asked for it, those not familiar with the warrior mentality that Smith possess figured the UFC just set her up to get destroyed. They were so wrong.
Unfortunately, an early referee stoppage in the first round of the bout did not let fight fans see the warrior side of Smith. During the official decision announcement, Smith made it very known that she was not happy and felt the fight should of continued. I can’t recall the last time a fighter who got dropped by the hands of Cyborg was so vocal to let the fight keep going.
An activist out of the octagon, Smith made her face present in many conferences and meetings regarding the forming of a fighters association, something that had been in discussion for some time now. She made it very public that she supported the more recently formed associations, such as the Professional Fighter Association (PFA) and the recently announced Mixed Martial Arts Athlete Association (MMAAA). Not afraid to voice her opinion on social media, Smith spoke with the media and questioned those in the points of authority to make sure this union was to be headed by the right leaders and sending the right message.
Following the major announcement of the MMAAA in November, Smith withdrew her name from the association, putting her in an controversial situation after how vocal she was during the year in support of it.
Oh, and did I mention she even dropped her management company to support the North Dakota pipeline protest once she found out they were investors in the Dakota Pipeline Access a few months ago?
Talk about a fighter in and out of the octagon. Leslie Smith represents a rare breed in the women’s division. Few fighters have the guts to be so vocal and passionate about what they believe in, but not Smith.
To close out 2016, she earned “Fight of the Night” honors for her three-round battle against Irene Aldana at UFC on Fox: VanZant vs. Waterson in Sacramento, Cali. on December 17th. This was Smith’s first FOTN with the UFC.
I hope to see Smith get the recognition she deserve on a higher platform in 2017, not just as a fighter but as a voice for topics many feel are taboo to discuss on larger platforms.
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