A union ironworker for eight years, Scott Smith quit his job for a
business that somehow seems more dangerous than carrying rebar
while tightrope walking. A business where being punched in the face
is the point, where blood not reaching the brain is technique -- a
business where he tears down skeletons rather than building them
The Californian's no-nonsense haircut and soft, unassuming voice
illustrates the compelling contrast in him: the nice roughneck.
The work ethic he honed in his hometown of Elk Grove, Calif. --
about 20 minutes south of Sacramento -- as a man of steel has
translated into Smith's MMA career.
Even as a full-time fighter in the post-boom MMA world, the
Nevada-born striker is still training like a throwback.
Three days a week he journeys to San Francisco to refine his muay
Thai at the world-renowned Fairtex gym. It's an hour and 40 minutes
away if he's lucky enough to bypass the Bay Area's unwavering
traffic clusters. It's a 40-minute drive to Roseville, Calif.,
where he trains in his own gym, Ultimate Training Center, alongside
James Irvin (Pictures) and Mark Munoz (Pictures). Additionally, he ventures to
Roseville to teach -- a supplement to his fight purses. Another
three days a week he drives 35 minutes for private Brazilian
The only training he can do in Elk Grove is weightlifting and
cardio. Endless miles on the road reflect Smith's skidding
He started as a heavyweight, gradually dropping weight throughout
his career. A one-night light heavyweight tournament in the WEC saw
him assert himself as a star in California's always burgeoning
fight scene. It was on that night in 2005, as he stopped Tim McKenzie (Pictures) and Tait Fletcher (Pictures), that his father collaborated
with WEC matchmaker Scott
Adams on the nickname "Hands of Steel."
A knockout win over Justin
Levens (Pictures) for good measure gave him the
credibility to go along with the nickname to shine on the big
That's when the UFC happened. After moving to his natural weight of
185 pounds, the Nevada-born fighter would lose a strange encounter
with David Terrell
(Pictures), parlay it into an
unsuccessful stint on "The Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback," finish
Pete Sell (Pictures) in one of the UFC's most dramatic
endings and then lose his next two UFC tangles.
Undeterred by a 1-3 UFC record, Smith was ready to come back. Then,
for lack of a better term, the UFC cut him.
"They wanted me to get a couple of wins before I came back. So I
had taken a couple fights. I had taken a fight and got injured, so
I had to take another one," he explains. "I asked if I could sign a
multi-fight deal [with Gladiator Challenge], and they said they'd
have to let me go if I did that."
His stoppage of Jeff
Morris (Pictures) last December caught the
attention of fledgling promotion EliteXC, which signed Smith to a
multi-fight deal. Smith obliterated prospect Kyle Noke (Pictures) in his debut with the
organization, which marked a startling return to MMA's
consciousness after years of frustration. The second-round knockout
over the Australian was a nice addition to his highlight reel, too,
but it signaled something greater for the father of two.
"There are so many people willing to do anything to fight in the
UFC and fight for nothing," he says. "Unless you're one of the top
dogs, you're not getting recognized. EliteXC is giving us our
With vaunted knockout power, Smith wants to return to cutting down
opponents for a living. He hopes to make EliteXC middleweight
champion Robbie Lawler
"It's going to be one of those fights where people are gonna talk
about it and want to have it on Tivo, have it recorded and go back
and watch this fight over and over again," says Smith of the clash
on Saturday. "That's what I'm going out there to try and do. Just
put on a great show and show that I'm an exciting fighter to
The fight is power puncher versus power puncher, two fighters who
prefer to stand and fall instead of looking for a takedown.
Smith concedes Lawler has "a little more of the technical edge,"
but says the ability to smash opponents falls in his own favor. He
also gives Lawler the edge with knees despite not having kicks to
"It just makes for a good standup matchup," he says.
EliteXC matchmaker Jared Shaw sees it in a similar light: "You have
an incredible matchup between two prominent strikers in mixed
martial arts. You know, Robbie reminds me of a throwback fighter
like Jack Dempsey. He's in your face and he's throwing power shots,
so he takes you out. Scott has the uncanny one-punch knockout
power, which has been evidenced more than once in his career."
This is the ideal bout for Smith, who has seen mixed results in the
spotlight. Pressure has subsided since his last fight, a do-or-die
for his career. Increased media engagements have not distracted
him. He handles them on his way to training and also views the
attention MMA neophyte Kimbo Slice receives as a positive -- it
means more viewers for his fight too.
The prospect of fighting on a live primetime network broadcast is
not shaking the UFC veteran. There are two fans he really wants to
put on a show for -- his sons. An 11-year-old and a 5-year-old will
tune in and root for their dad, who claims he is "at the top of his
game right now."
"Hands of Steel" loves being the underdog against Lawler. Training
at Big Bear with Tito Ortiz
(Pictures), Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures) and Joe Riggs (Pictures) for a month has instilled
confidence in the Northern Californian. But nothing is more
empowering than his preparation with maniacal power puncher and
training partner James Irvin. If he can survive the onslaught of
"The Sandman," he believes he can survive Lawler's.
When Smith spars with Irvin, they fight.
"Everybody stops at the gym to watch us spar," Smith says. "People
… will ask one of our coaches, ‘Are these guys mad at each other?
What's the deal?' We're just so used to sparring so hard. When we
get into a fight, no one is going to hit us and kick us like
Despite Smith's underdog status, there are many factors working for
him. Lawler has had a nine-month layoff, a shoulder injury and an
arm injury that kept him from two Icon Sport title defenses. He has
also broken away from long-time mentor Pat Miletich (Pictures).
Perhaps the most telling card in Smith's deck is the fact he has
only been knocked out once in his career -- a 2004 loss against
Irvin. Countered with a clobbering right hook, Smith went reeling.
Irvin -- a heavyweight at the time -- punished Smith until he
slumped over. It doesn't happen anymore.
With 11 of his 13 wins coming via TKO or KO, Smith is ready to
forge his tools in the fire that is Lawler, whose 12 out of 15 wins
have been stoppages or knockouts.
The explosive energy involved in the contest is perfectly summed up
by the challenger.
"I don't even know why they got it set for five five-minute rounds.
There's definitely no way it's going five rounds," Smith says with
a laugh. "They might as well make it no time limit."
Fighting for the EliteXC 185-pound title is Smith's biggest shot
yet. It is also his most dangerous opportunity, as proven by
Lawler's destruction over Murilo
Rua (Pictures) -- a finish so violent it
couldn't be drawn in comic books. A dramatic conclusion in this
title clash is as close to a guarantee as there is in MMA.
And that's why Smith wants to be there in the cage: to prove he is
made of steel, the material he labored over, the characteristics he
may have absorbed into his own chemical makeup.
Millions will be watching on CBS. Lawler wears the title, but
Saturday night Smith will try to take it -- iron in his past, gold
potentially in his future.