On April 5th, Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith came within a single point of defeating former Strikeforce champ Sarah Kaufman at Invicta FC 5. A win likely would have propelled the Cesar Gracie Fight Team standout on to the UFC, but Smith has instead made the most out of a new opportunity.
In two weeks, Smith makes her flyweight debut against Jennifer Maia in a title eliminator bout at Invicta FC 6. Smith has a tough test ahead of her, but she plans to make a fresh start in the 125-pound division and hopes to one day become Invicta FC’s first champion in two different weight classes.
Smith (5-3-1) has been a staple of the Invicta Fighting Championships brand since the promotion’s inaugural event on April 28, 2012. That night, she battled Kaitlin Young to a hotly-contested Split Draw in a bout that earned Fight of the Year consideration. Smith has since fought three more times for Invicta FC as a bantamweight, with wins over Young in an October rematch and former training partner Raquel Pennington in January. Training alongside fellow top contenders Alexis Davis and Sarah D’Alelio in the gym, Smith has continued to make huge improvements to her overall game.
The bout with Kaufman in April was a point of contention among fans. Many felt that Smith had done enough to win the fight and Smith agreed. She initially campaigned for a rematch, but after watching how teammate Gilbert Melendez calmly reacted to his own controversial decision loss to UFC champ Benson Henderson at UFC on FOX 7, Smith decided to take a different approach.
Smith is a firm believer that fighters are not made by opportunities that are given to them, but rather by what they do with those opportunities. Instead of focusing on what could have been in the fight against Kaufman, Smith instead set her sights on a new path and a new opportunity. She had been considering making a move down to 125 pounds for many months and the time was right. Smith signed a new long-term deal with Invicta FC and was placed in a title contender’s bout against Maia for next month.
“The fighter who is the most successful is not necessarily the one who is the best,” Smith says. “It’s the one who can make the most out of what they’ve got. I am working to make the most out of my situation. I’m learning as I go along and I’m looking to make the most out of any opportunity and any situation that I’m in. There’s really no point in me complaining about anything that I had the chance to make the most out of and didn’t.”
Smith admits that she’s “less jovial” these days now that she cannot eat as often, but she has noticed improvements in both her physique and quickness as she works her way down in weight. Transitions in jiu-jitsu are now easier to time and execute, and Smith attributes this to both her increased agility and also her natural skill progression. She is focused on learning more and improving every day.
Against Young and Kaufman, Smith prepared for opponents who would try to hold her against the cage. Maia employed a similar strategy in her Invicta FC 5 bout against former Bellator champ Zoila Frausto Gurgel, but Smith has no plans to fight off of the cage next month. She intends to press the action and keep Maia on the defensive in order to take the Brazilian out of her comfort zone.
“I plan on backing her up and I think that’s going to put her in a different spot,” Smith says. “I haven’t seen her getting backed up in any of her other fights. Either one of us backs up or it’s going to be super high intensity [exchanges] for however long we can both last. It’s going to be a good fight.
“There’s always pressure,” she adds. “Every fight is the biggest fight of my career. Whatever I’ve got in front of me is the most important fight that I’ll ever have. This is a contendership match, but I’m certainly not looking over this to a title fight. I’m not planning my title acceptance speech at this point. I’m just focused on getting ready for this fight.”
Throughout her career, Smith has thrived off of the energy from the fans in attendance. That energy has been particularly important during her time with Invicta FC, where she has earned two Fight of the Night bonuses and has been a part of four of the company’s best fights to date.
“I enjoy myself the very most, with the most exciting fight possible, when I walk in and we both just go for it,” Smith says. “The louder the crowd is, the more fun, and the more power and energy I have in my punches and kicks. I feel like energy is something that helps me. There are many different types of energy and energy is palpable. You can feel it. When you have a huge crowd and they’re all in sync with this energy, there’s an electricity about it.
“So [with fight crowds], even without knowing whether they’re cheering for me or the other person, there’s still energy there that I can feed off of. And I do. I come out there excited, the crowd gets excited, I get more excited because the crowd’s excited, the crowd gets more excited because I’m excited, and then everybody wins.”
While Smith is not looking past Maia, whom she expects to be a formidable opponent, she does have goals in place for the future. Smith hopes to stay with Invicta FC for the long-term and she believes that the promotion has elevated women and brought in more fans to the sport, but like most fighters, Smith would also like to one day compete for the UFC.
“I’m very happy being with Invicta right now,” she says. “I love the way that they treat me and the other fighters, and I love the way that the fans treat us. I think that the bigger that Invicta gets, the bigger that I get, and vice-versa.
“If I was over in the UFC right now, I don’t think that they would be as appreciative of the couple thousand extra fans that I can bring in the same way that Invicta is. And I’m kind of enjoying being appreciated by Invicta right now. I also really appreciate my team, my sponsors like Brentwood Embroidery & Screen Printing and Loyalty Before Royalty, and everyone who is supportive of what we do.”
Smith’s plan, which she says she thinks about before going to sleep each night, starts with a victory over Maia in two weeks. She then hopes to win the Invicta FC flyweight title and make a successful defence before returning to 135 pounds to capture and defend the title there. If all goes according to plan, Smith will then move back down to 125 for one more title defence before finally challenging the current UFC women’s champion in a 135-pound superfight.
The multi-step plan is a lofty one, but Smith has already proven that she can compete among the best fighters on the Invicta FC roster. Her path to a title shot at 125 pounds begins on July 13th when she faces Maia in Kansas City, Missouri, and Smith intends to earn her third Fight of the Night bonus.