Leslie Smith takes on Amanda Bell at Bellator 245. The featherweight fight goes down on Friday, September 11, live from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The card will simulcast on DAZN as well as Paramount Network.
Smith has been quarantining in her room this week, but that is something she doesn’t seem to mind at all. Leslie Smith went through a phase of exploring the fight town, watching a movie, but now mostly hunkers down in the room to focus on the task at hand.
Pandemic Era MMA
Fortunately for Smith, the global pandemic did little to affect her preparations for this one. “I have been so lucky with this training camp. At El Nino Training Center in San Francisco, Gilbert Melendez has been coaching us. Jake Shields has been coaching us, Keri Melendez everyone knows she’s awesome. Shinju Auclair, she is here with me to corner with me.”
Smith continued, adding “I was able to go out to Brentwood at the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy. It’s a pretty new academy. It’s a really nice academy and I get to work with Cesar out there.”
Smith is working with more women than ever before. She used to prefer sparring with men because she could go full force in training. Nowadays working with women has allowed for her to level up in a technical sense and have a greater nuance to her techniques.
Beyond working with high-level martial artists, there’s a friendly connectivity between everyone as well. “It’s really nice to be able to respect the people that I’m surrounded with,” she observed. “Shinju [Auclair] is a huge part of the community. She’s been very essential to my training camp.”
Outside of the cage, Smith has been allocating time towards Rutgers classes studying Labor and Employer relations. “I am enjoying my classes a whole lot this semester. I’m taking a writing class and a corporate governance class and a class on immigration law. Those are all subjects I’m really excited about.”
Combat Sports Labor Law
December 2021 is the expected finish line as Smith is a part-time student. Then, “The Peacemaker” plans to go to graduate school for her masters from Rutgers then move on to law school to study labor law.
The enthusiasm Smith has for this subject has been known for a while with her efforts through Project Spearhead. “It’s so fascinating. I have been super lucky all throughout this process. My first teacher of labor law has been Lucas Middlebrook, the lawyer and friend that I worked with on Project Spearhead. He’s a great teacher. Labor law is so fascinating. Employment law is so fascinating because it touches everybody”
Recent divisiveness in WWE over an edict banning third-party sponsorships for their independent contractors caught Smith’s attention and bared a ton of resemblances to MMA fighter struggles. “It seems like a lot of the MMA structure is based on pro wrestling structure. They took a lot of pages out of that book.”
Smith vs Bell
Smith mentioned how unions don’t have to create adversarial relationships with employers. They can work in concert with the sporting organizations to promote the sport at large. Some fighters are hesitant to talk about this stuff while actively competing. The importance of concurrently competing and advocating for change is certainly not lost on Leslie Smith.
“It is very important for me. If I wasn’t so adamant about trying to agitate for change for fighters than I don’t think I believe my passion for fighting would be anywhere near as strong,” she explained. “In fact, there was a period where I kind of lost my love for the sport.”
Leslie Smith added that “I had a hard time generating any enthusiasm for it because I was pretty disillusioned with a lot of the aspects of it. The opportunity to change some things and the opportunity to hopefully make things better for my community and future fighters is irresistible.”
Smith has been plying her trade as a featherweight so far in Bellator but has an interest in competing as a flyweight eventually. To have options in two divisions is not a bad place to be.
“I would love to act like I’m the sole person guiding my ship through the waters of MMA but I’m not. I’m totally not. I’m really kind of just taking what ever’s offered to me,” she said. “At first, I thought that my opportunities in Bellator were going to be at 125 and I was very ready for that. That is not what I was offered. I was offered this opportunity at 145. I’m a kind of a take what I can get and run with it kind of fighter and person.”
Smith has developed additional confidence from working with Keri Melendez and it has caused a ton of development. An analytical eye and the high-level striking acumen for Melendez has helped a lot and Smith sees Keri Melendez as the best striker in MMA with all women considered.
The matchmaking between Smith and Bell is one that makes for an exciting fight on paper as well as a fight that has significance in fleshing out the featherweight contendership hierarchy.
“Amanda Bell is heavy on the striking. So I think it’s a really great opportunity for me. Getting to train with the other fighters on my team…Getting to train with such accomplished strikers and fighters. Such fast strikers and fighters. Technical, high level, and fast. I feel like there’s nothing that Amanda is going to be throwing that I’m not going to be able to see and have already been able to know how to deal with.”