Bellator 241: Leslie Smith On Giving Back, Shifting The Perception On Women In Sports

A pioneer in women’s MMA, Leslie Smith has fought all over. From the UFC, Invicta to Bellator, “The Peacemaker” has made an impact wherever she goes.

Smith (11-8-1), is set to face off against Jessy Miele at Bellator 241 in Uncasville, CT on March 13. In her 21st pro fight, Leslie has seen the positives and negatives the world of MMA has on a variety of people. The positives, however, is what the Project Spearhead advocate tries to take the most from the sport.

Speaking to FIGHT SPORTS, Smith believes looking past the entertainment aspect of MMA is important for its growth. This is especially true when giving back to the community.

“I think that the martial arts aspect that MMA is supposed to exemplify, it does get left by the wayside quite often. People prefer to celebrate sh*t-talking and the more confrontational aspects. From my perspective, martial arts more than anything else was about discipline, helping the next generation and being able to fight the battle within yourself. It is nice to go to other places and, even though there is that attitude inside the UFC… it’s present everywhere else.

“What everybody can get out of martial arts is the feeling of camaraderie, the feeling of confidence and the feeling of respect for other people that I personally didn’t get from anything else in literally my entire life.”

 

Smith faces a fighter in Miele (9-3), who has only one fight in Bellator to her name. With four wins via submission since turning pro in 2014, how does one prepare for the unknown?

“Anything I do to prepare for anybody else.. is to be the best that I can be,” Smith went on to say. “Standing, clinching, on the ground, whatever it is I got to be ready for it. It is all going to come out inside the cage. It is all about me preparing for her and me preparing for myself. Period. We get in there and I feel she’s weak in one department or another department and I need to be ready to make the adjustments. It is not about her.”

One of Smith’s goals at Project Spearhead is to provide a union in which fighters can have some control over themselves. It is a free-thinking style that didn’t quite gain any ground while in the UFC. Smith was released by the UFC for refusing to fight Aspen Ladd after the latter did not make weight for their bout in April 2018. Bellator then signed her in April 2019.

Smith is glad to be with people that she believes share her goals. One of her active goals is for people to use their voices for change to finally arrive.

“Bellator’s been great, they’ve been super supportive,” Smith continued. “They’ve given me a chance to fight after everything that happened… It’s nice to be able to still have a chance to fight. People are scared to speak up against the powers that be… they are scared to risk whatever they have. They don’t realize that if they just fought for more, fought for what they deserve, they’ll get closer to what they actually deserve. Right now, most people aren’t getting what they ought to get. As far as me, and me talking about it, it all just comes from loving to fight and appreciating everyone else that fights, and wanting to see them get a better deal out of it.

March is Women’s History Month. Along with the epic UFC 248 fight between Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Invicta FC being the first major promotion to utilize an open scoring system, women within MMA are making history every single day. Is that enough though?

The phrase “Fight Like A Girl” has been twisted according to Smith. What she is hoping for is a direct change in the way women are covered, and how they are brought up within the world of sports and beyond.

“I hate that phrase,” Smith stated. “I know that people are trying to rebrand it… I’m not a girl, I’m a grown-a** woman. I’m 37 years old, I’ve had over 20 fights, I’m not a girl. I don’t even like it when women are called girls… When you think about it, a girl, just like a boy, is an immature child. Women for years have been subjugated to control and we haven’t had the opportunities and are treated like we are less than most… that’s what girl sounds like to me every time I hear it. Unless its another woman… I’m cool with that.

“I think that the biggest improvement that can be done (regarding change) is that the media needs to step it up with the way that they are covering it. Look at the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. They don’t get anywhere near the coverage. But they are winning! They are the ones everyone was super happy about and celebrating… they aren’t getting the same sponsorships, the same money. The more that the media and the fans really embrace it… the more they demand that that’s where their money goes, then the more it’s going to be respected.

When it comes to advice for young women, Smith hopes the positives outweigh the negatives. She sees ways in which some people gain advantages in the sport, and Smith hopes the younger generation can be their true selves.

“It is like a catch-22,” Smith continued. “On the one hand, breast implants, they’ll get you a lot of attention in the sport… On the other hand, is that really good for your soul? I don’t feel like anybody should feel like they’ve got to make some surgical change to themselves, I think they are already just as good as they need to be… I personally just like seeing people being who they are and getting the attention for being really good at what they do.

“I guess I don’t have any advice except for love what you do and keep doing what you love. If it’s your thing, have fun and do it.”‘

**If you use any of this interview, please credit FIGHT SPORTS**

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