Growing up in Squamish, British Columbia — a small, coastal town of just under 20,000 people — Cole Smith never really dreamed that he’d be training and competing in Muay Thai in Thailand. However, while competing for local promotion Battlefield Fight League as an amateur, a chance encounter with a UFC veteran gave him an opportunity that changed his life and his mindset.
“It’s funny because I was actually warming up in the BFL cage one day and there was ex-UFC fighter Jeremy Kennedy,” Smith recalls. “I heard about him and I knew he was super good, and I heard he was training in Thailand. He was a young man at that time, I think he was 22, and I was just kind of jokingly like ‘hey, bro, I heard you’re training in Thailand. I’m going to come out there and train with you.”
Although it was somewhat of a joke, Kennedy didn’t take it as such. Instead he not only treated Smith’s playful call as serious, but encouraged him and aided him in taking those first steps.
“The next day he messaged me online. It was like ‘hey, bro, I don’t know if you were serious, but I’ll get you sponsored out here and you can come out,” he said. “Two weeks later, I went out. I was just hooked, man.”
While out there getting work on his striking for his MMA career, began to take Muay Thai bouts as well. The structure of the shows, like the lifestyle in Thailand, spoke to him immediately. Not only was there no real preparing for a specific opponent, there was no real knowing an opponent.
“I took a bunch of Muay Thai fights. It was just like, I want to fight on Wednesday, and it’ll be on Monday,” he remembered. “They’ll be like ‘okay, we’ll find you somebody’ and you just show up at the arena and they point out the guy. ‘Okay, you’re fighting him.”
Smith recalled checking out past opponents to make sure they were roughly the same size as him, but even after a while that seemed to matter less. He began to just go in and be himself, believing that he was good enough to beat anyone.
That mentality came back with him to North America. Although he’s cognizant of who the UFC is putting in front of him, that general indifference about who they are remains.
“It doesn’t matter, man. You know what I mean? It’s just a fight and just the next guy,” he said. “I hate to quote Conor McGregor, but you are against yourself in there, and if you’re fighting at your full capacity and doing what you should be doing, you should be able to beat anyone on any day.”
This weekend, that person in front of him will be Hunter Azure. You can see that bout as part of the UFC Vegas 9 prelims on ESPN+.