Before we get into Leslie Smith’s fighting career and organizing efforts and all the ways that the latter threatens to undo the former, there’s a story from her childhood that might help explain how she got here.
See, when she was in the first grade, her class had this ritual. First, they’d all sing “America, the Beautiful,” led by their teacher, then after that they’d launch into the Pledge of Allegiance. Smith couldn’t help but notice that the pledge usually came out pretty poorly, mostly because the kids were all out of breath from singing.
Smith was raised to speak up and speak her mind, so one day she went to the teacher and told her, hey, this wasn’t the best way to do things. They should do the pledge first, then sing. That way their little lungs could keep up.
“The teacher, I remember she kind of laughed me off,” Smith told MMAjunkie. “That’s when I realized that maybe speaking up isn’t always all my mom said it was.”
It’s not hard to see the parallels with Smith’s current situation. After becoming a vocal proponent for a fighters’ union, which most recently included encouraging her fellow UFC fighters to sign authorization cards through Project Spearhead, Smith saw her time in the UFC come to a sudden end under unusual circumstances last week.
Her scheduled opponent at UFC Fight Night 128, Aspen Ladd, came in heavy before the bout. According to Smith (10-7-1 MMA, 4-3 UFC), she asked for a new contract in exchange for taking the fight, since the bout with Ladd (6-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) was the last on her current UFC deal.
Instead, the UFC opted to pay her both her show and win money, thus concluding the contract, and didn’t offer her a new one after Smith declined to take the Ladd fight because, as she put it, “I would have been fighting for free.”
The way Smith sees it, the UFC wanted to be rid of her because of her organizing efforts. And since she interprets this as an illegal retaliation for her attempts to form a union, Smith said she intends to pursue legal action against the UFC on those grounds.
A UFC official declined a request for comment for this story.
Smith has already set up a GoFundMe to help pay her legal fees, but she admitted that she’s not entirely sure where the next steps will take her.
“The ultimate goal is to get representation for the fighters,” Smith said. “It’s not a situation where I’m trying to get this amount of money or whatever. That’s not the goal. The goal is representation.”
In the meantime, however, the future of her fighting career is even more uncertain. The UFC made it clear that it no longer wanted her on the roster, Smith said, but she’s not entirely sure she’s a free agent yet.
“I never agreed or signed anything saying, ‘This will count as the last fight on my contract,’” Smith said. “I still want to fight Aspen Ladd. She says she wants to fight me.”
But if the door to the UFC is now closed to Smith, does that mean another one will open with some other MMA promotion? What if her organizing efforts and the subsequent publicity have branded her a bad egg in the eyes of other promoters, who might look at her and only see potential lawsuits?
A part of her is trying not to worry too much about that possibility, Smith said, if only because she regards other promotions as less restrictive than the UFC.
“I wouldn’t think (other promotions) would be reluctant to sign me,” Smith said, “because the things I’m pushing back against in the UFC aren’t problems that they have.”
Still, even Smith has to acknowledge there is a chance that she’ll end up paying a heavy price for her efforts thus far. She might even pay with her career, and in some senses she already has.
That makes it hard not to wonder if it will all end up being worth it in the end. Smith’s goal with Project Spearhead was to get 30 percent of the UFC roster to sign authorization cards that could be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board, which would then be called upon to make a determination about the employment status of UFC fighters.
Her unusual exit from the UFC could also be grounds for legal action that would force the same determination, Smith said, but finding herself on the outside of the group she was recently trying to organize from within is a sudden and jarring change.
Watching Saturday night’s event in Atlantic City, N.J., Smith said, she was overwhelmed by a flood of different emotions.
“I kept looking at the fighters and being like, ‘Wow, they’re in great shape and they’re intense and they’re tough,’” Smith said. “Then I’d think, ‘Hey, I’m in great shape and I’m intense and I’m tough. I’m a UFC fighter just like them.’ That’s when I’d catch myself and realize, I’m not. I’m not a UFC fighter anymore.”
Whether Smith’s situation will frighten off other fighters who might have otherwise considered signing an authorization card and joining with her, that remains to be seen. Smith has emphasized the anonymity of the process, the fact that fighters can sign on without their names becoming known to the public or the UFC.
“They don’t have to stick their necks out and do it the way I did,” Smith said. “No one has to do it the way I did.”
But what if they don’t do it at all? What if Smith sacrifices her fighting career for an effort that ultimately leads nowhere? Then again, what if it results in representation in the end – just not for her? What if her efforts only help future fighters, leaving her UFC career a casualty?
Smith has considered that possibility. The days since her UFC exit have included a lot of reflection, so it was impossible not to consider it, scrolling through all the what-ifs in her mind.
“We are a very results-based society, but I feel confident right now that I’ve made the best decision,” Smith said. “Yeah, my pride hurts. A part of me is probably going to regret not taking that fight for the rest of my life. I definitely regret it right now, and I definitely regretted it when I was watching the fights on Saturday night.
“But I still think standing up for myself was the right thing to do. And the way I am, when I see the right thing to do, I can’t really stop myself.”view original article >>