Not only does Leslie Smith get to fulfill her dream of fighting in the UFC on Wednesday night, she gets the chance to avenge one of the toughest losses of her career.
Smith said the first time she fought Sarah Kaufman, almost exactly one year ago in Invicta, she held back. She feels like she almost gave Kaufman and her striking too much respect.
"I’ve been frustrated that I hadn’t put everything into the fight," Smith told FOX Sports on Monday. "I was trying to do a strategic type of thing. I thought she would take advantage of my rushing in. I let her come first. That’s not going to happen this time."
The Smith-Kaufman rematch comes at the TUF Nations Finale in Quebec City (Early prelims: UFC Fight Pass, 3:15 p.m.; Prelims: FOX Sports 1, 5 p.m.; Main card: FOX Sports 1, 7 p.m.). Kaufman was initially supposed to fight Shayna Baszler, but Baszler had to pull out with an injury. The same thing happened with replacement Amanda Nunes. Last week, Smith’s trainer Cesar Gracie called her on the phone and asked if she would be ready for the fight on just eight days notice. She responded, "Yup!"
Smith, 31, has vowed not to make the same mistake against Kaufman this time.
"This time she’s not even going to be able to breathe, because my punches are going to be in her face so fast," she said.
Smith was training at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas with Miesha Tate as part of Tate’s camp for her fight with Liz Carmouche at FOX UFC Saturday this weekend. So, Smith was in shape and ready to go. She feels like she’s even better off for it, because it was like she was preparing for a fight without any of the actual pressure.
"Usually by now I hate everybody and I hate everything," Smith said. "I just want to get it over with and fight so I can eat."
And the California native certainly does fight like she’s in a rush. Smith (6-4-1) is one of the most exciting female fighters in the world. Like her training partners, Nick and Nate Diaz, she is constantly coming forward.
"I’m there to fight," Smith said. "I’m not there to dance around and show off my fancy footwork four feet away. I’m there to fight, get in their face. It’s not a ballet. We’re not tangoing."
This time she’s not even going to be able to breathe, because my punches are going to be in her face so fast.
-Leslie Smith on Sarah Kaufman
Smith is coming off a loss to Barb Honchak in an Invicta 125-pound title fight back in December. Before that, she had won three of four with the only loss that controversial decision against Kaufman. Smith is ranked No. 3 among women’s flyweights in the MMARising.com unified women’s MMA rankings.
Many felt she should have been one of the UFC’s first female signings, but Smith said she didn’t push hard for it. She felt too much loyalty toward Invicta and its president, Shannon Knapp.
"I wasn’t trying to be one of the first people to dive off the ship," Smith said. "Don’t get me wrong, if anybody would have called me, I would have been all over it in a second."
She’s in the UFC now, though, and she’ll have a familiar foe across the Octagon from her Wednesday night. Smith definitely doesn’t plan on being a counterpuncher this time against Kaufman.
"This fight is going to be the highlight of the event if I have anything to do with it," Smith said.