Ex-UFC, Invicta Veteran Leslie Smith Joins Bellator MMA

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Leslie Smith, UFC Atlantic City
Leslie Smith, UFC Atlantic City Weigh-In Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

Leslie Smith is set to give a big boost to the Bellator women’s featherweight division.

Leslie Smith has found a new home. Roughly a year after her exit from the UFC, thick with controversy, and two since she last stepped in the cage, Smith, a.k.a. ‘The Peacemaker,’ has signed a deal with Scott Coker’s Bellator MMA. The news was first reported by Yahoo Sports, and later confirmed by Smith herself.

Smith (10-7-1) went 4-3 over her UFC tenure, which included a catchweight clash with Cris Cyborg in 2016. By April 2018, she’d strung together a modest two-fight winning streak, and was set to face Aspen Ladd at UFC Atlantic City. When Ladd failed to make weight for the fight, Smith attempted to renegotiate her contract; when that failed, she pushed for a one-fight contract extension under the terms of her then-current deal.

Instead, after hours spent back stage at the weigh-ins in Atlantic City, what ultimately happened was… nothing. The Ladd fight was called off. Ladd later claimed she offered Smith an extra $5,000 on top of a 20% fine for missing weight, a claim Smith refuted. The UFC, instead of renegotiating or extending Smith’s deal, paid out the final fight on her contract and released her.

Ahead of the Ladd fight that never was, Smith told Bloody Elbow in an interview that “my time is running out. I have been vocal about the union for quite some time now.” She had just launched Project Spearhead, an initiative to determine whether UFC fighters should be classified as employees, or independent contractors. The UFC insists on designating them as the latter, yet enforces uniforms, a dress code, is able to dock pay, and does not allow fighters to compete in other promotions or display sponsors in the octagon.

A finding that UFC fighters were employees might have paved the way for a union to be formed. In other words, she believed herself to be a threat to the UFC’s own interests.

In contrast, what excites her about Bellator is that “they do not have that climate of fear that was present in the UFC,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. β€œThey’re a company that cares. They listen to their fighters. They put their fighters first and they give them the opportunity to have sponsors and there is a lot of expression that can happen inside those deals with the sponsors.”

In terms of her fight career, Smith holds notable wins over Irene Aldana, Rin Nakai, former Invicta FC champ Jennifer Maia, Raquel Pennington, and Kaitlin Young. Earlier this year, she threw her name in the hat for a shot at Bellator women’s featherweight champ Julia Budd. Budd is set to face Olga Rubin this July.

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