If you’ve seen Devonte Smith fight before, you’ve probably seen some fireworks on the feet. At one point, he had rattled off four straight first round KOs, including one in the Contender Series and another two inside the UFC. In fact, with the exception of a triangle choke he got back in 2017, Smith has finished all his fights with his hands.
But what a lot of people don’t know about the Ohio-native, is that he started paving the way for his eventual UFC career on the mats.
“I wrestled from 9th all the way to 12th grade. I actually started wrestling to be in the UFC,” Smith shared. “My older brother wrestled for Euclid, [Ohio] and I wrestled for Bedford High. You know, it was martial arts for free. Your mom had to pay for shoes and stuff, but it was free martial arts. It was basically fighting after school without getting into trouble.”
For Smith and his bother, who didn’t have much money, that was everything, because from a young age he knew he wanted to fight. In his early teens, he and his brother had seen an iconic highlight and was instantly sure that it was something he was going to do with his life.
“[At] 14, me and my older brother used to watch Pride a lot, and I saw, I don’t know if it was the fight or the highlight, Rampage. He was in a triangle choke and he picked the dude up, slammed him, knocked him out and just started hitting him,” he remembered. “For whatever reason, I was like ‘I can do that.”
From there, it was all that Smith could think about. It was all he could talk about. Sometimes, he joked, even to his own detriment.
“I would always talk about it… I didn’t even know how to hold conversations if it had nothing to do with wrestling and lifting weights and stuff,” he said with his trademark laugh. “So you can take a wild guess how that went with girls.”
While he wasn’t making any waves with the ladies, he immediately started working hard on the mats to begin his career in the best (and cheapest) way that he knew how. Not only was wrestling for his local high school, but he and his brother started to work on even more – knowing one day he’d be where he is today.
“Also, me and my brother we used to be in the basement sparring all the time – trying out jiu jitsu moves, wrestling moves,” he said. “At 14 that’s when I was like, ‘this is what I’m going to do.”
He’ll continue to fulfill that prophecy this weekend when he faces Jamie Mullarkey. That fight takes place on the prelims of UFC Vegas 38 on ESPN+.
You can hear this entire interview below at 1:56.