Bellator 241: Leslie Smith Says Project Spearhead Now an Educational Effort

Credit: Bellator MMA
Leslie Smith Credit: Bellator MMA

The outspoken featherweight discusses starving to make weight, her Bellator 241 fight with Jessy Miele, where Project Spearhead stands and more.

When Leslie Smith returns to the cage this Friday at Bellator 241 in Connecticut, it will mark her third fight for the promotion since joining the company last year. Smith had spent three years with the UFC, before she was unceremoniously dumped following a spat with the promotion, who she came to a head with over fighter’s rights, and Project Spearhead, a movement she started to have UFC fighters classified as employees, rather than contractors.

It’s easy to forget, with all her activity outside of the cage, that Smith is still an active competitor. She lost over a year after exiting the UFC, but since joining Bellator, she’s 1-1, and will face Jessy Miele at Bellator 241 this Friday.

Now fighting at featherweight (Bellator does not boast a 135lb weight class, Smith’s former home) for the third straight bout, you’d think the weight cut would be smooth sailing. But in a way, moving up in weight complicated things, Smith told Cageside Press ahead of the fight.

“The first two [fights] that I had with Bellator at 45, I was trying to gain weight,” she revealed. “I was eating as much as I could, taking the protein, taking the creatine, just trying to get bigger. And I didn’t really like it.”

The process of ballooning up wasn’t much better than an extreme cut down, in the end. “I did an interview where I said I thought I was anorexic before, in the UFC when I was fighting at 135. I’m sure that had a lot of people rolling their eyes, because you never have the kind of chubby, flabby person thinking that they’re anorexic,” Smith continued. “But that is part of the cycle, an unhealthy cycle that a lot of people get into, which is that you’re so restricted on what you’re eating that you’re not getting enough food to heal your body and do your basic biological functions. So that when you’re not in fight camp, you’re just binging all the time, and getting everything that your body wanted before.”

This camp, things are different for Smith. She’s healthier, “because I’m not starving myself for this fight camp, but I’m also not stuffing myself like I was for the last two fights. I’m strong and I’m fast and I’m accurate, and those are going to matter a whole lot more than putting on an extra five pounds.”

Having said all that, when she first flirted with moving to Bellator, Smith wasn’t sure if it would be competing at flyweight or featherweight. She had fought at 125lbs before, back in in Invicta FC. Given her comments on starving herself to make weight, the idea of a 125lb fight for Smith is a bit surprising. It’s all a matter, however, of making weight intelligently.

“Being able to break free of some of these bad eating cycles has actually allowed me to have a lot of opportunities to go up or down,” she said. “Before, I was just pretty much starving myself in order to make 125. At this point, I don’t think it would be out of the question for me to make it in an intelligent way.”

For now, however, it’s full speed ahead at 145lbs. She hit a bump in the road in her last fight, against Arlene Blencowe. Which left her with one simple takeaway.

“The judges f*cking suck and I’ve got to not leave it to them, but I already knew that,” Smith exclaimed. “I’m ready to go for the kill in this fight. Death before decision.”

“That’s the energy that I’m bringing into this fight,” she added. Smith is “excited to be fighting a lefty,” she told us, noting that Miele represents a well-rounded fighter with a “competent A game.”

“Nobody wants to beat a loser. You only want to beat someone who’s good. And I think she’s good, so it’s going to make it fun,” she finished.

Smith’s behind the scenes activities in MMA have been a subject of conversation for years. While he efforts to have UFC fighters classified as employees ultimately came up short, labor action is something that remains important to her. Nearly three years ago, at the height of Project Spearhead, Smith was set to face Aspen Ladd at UFC Atlantic City. But after Ladd missed weight, the UFC opted to pay Smith her purse, and show her the door. It was the final fight of her contract with the promotion.

“I had a hunch [it was coming],” she said of what amounted to her release. “The two major reasons I started Project Spearhead when I did was because one, a new promotional guideline had just been released, tied to the Reebok outfitting payments.” Those guidelines covered fight week behavior, and their introduction was a unilateral decision by the UFC, Smith said. Among the changes, per Smith, the UFC “reserved the right to withhold [fighter’s] money.” Essentially, she said, they told fighters the promotion could withhold not just Reebok money, but bonuses and fight purses as well.

The UFC, at the time, asked fighters to reach out if they had questions. Smith did, and set up a meeting, only to be met with obvious push-back. The promotion questioned what she wanted to discuss. UFC officials no-showed meetings. In short, she was given the runaround. “I never got my meeting. I never got any of that. So Project Spearhead started because of all that ridiculousness. As well as because it was the last fight on my contract.”

On page two, Smith discusses her release from the UFC, and why she hasn’t attempted to launch a similar effort to Project Spearhead in Bellator MMA.


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