Uncasville, CT — Believe it or not, Leslie Smith actually campaigned for a rematch with the fearsome Cris Cyborg. “One thing about me is that I’m not scared of anything, except for not getting the opportunity to fight and to try my hardest. I asked for this fight,” Smith revealed Friday night, shortly after the announcement that Cyborg vs. Smith 2 would headline May’s Bellator 259.
“So I’ve been wanting this fight. I asked for this fight, again. I’ve been training for this fight,” she continued, speaking backstage at the Mohegan Sun Arena to media outlets including Cageside Press. “I’ve already been working on all aspects of my MMA game. And I’m beyond excited about this opportunity.”
Cyborg and Smith first met in 2016 under the UFC banner. It did not go her way. The 140lb catchweight bout (at the time, the UFC did not have a featherweight division for women) ended a little over 90 seconds into the opening round. Cyborg took home the TKO victory.
That hasn’t discouraged Smith any, it seems. “Of course I want this fight. This is the goal of everyone who’s in MMA, is to get a title in the premiere organization,” said Smith. “Which this is, the premiere organization for my weight class, for women right now. This is the best place I could possibly be for fighting. I am beyond excited for this opportunity. I am ready to die out there. I’m willing to lose an ear. But I can guarantee that it’s going to be a very entertaining fight.”
The ear reference is a callback to UFC 180, when Smith’s cauliflower ear exploded off a punch from Jessica Eye. But more telling are her comments about Bellator being the premiere organization for her weight class. Because, frankly, it is. In recent weeks, the UFC has let former featherweight title challenger and Invicta FC champ Megan Anderson walk. Invicta, meanwhile, is in limbo, with no events announced. While the UFC showboats Amanda Nunes as a double-champ, no 145lb division has ever been built around her.
Instead, Bellator remains the only promotion with an active, competitive 145lb weight class for women. And Cyborg rules it.
There is a question, however, as to how this rematch with Cyborg will be different. And how Smith has improved in the years since that first meeting.
“Since the first time that we fought— defense was not my thing before I fought her. So it was an incredible learning experience. Literally no one, nobody before or after that has ever effected me with their power like that,” Smith admitted. “So I have been training since then to be able to control the distance, to be able to control the timing.”
“Let me tell you something about rematches,” Smith went on to add. “Almost every single time in a rematch, the person who won is like ‘yeah, what’s up, I won.’ Duh. They’re happy about it. The person who didn’t win, they’re the one studying the tape, who is like ‘how can I change this, what can I do, what can I do differently?'”
Smith has looked at all those steps with her team, she added. As to where she has improved most, Smith continued by saying “Definitely distance and timing. In general, I have much better defense. Just in general, I’m a lot more aware of it. But if I was going to say one thing that I’m a lot better at, I’m going to say it’s my Fight IQ.” Starting out in the sport, said Smith, she didn’t care about getting hit. “At some point, I realized that I should take care of my brain, and I do need to dodge things, because even if I don’t mind taking a punch so that I can throw five, refs don’t always reward that.”
Watch the full media scrum with Leslie Smith at Bellator 255 above.