Smith Surprises in WEC 205-lb. Tourney; Rodriguez Rolls

Smith Surprises

By Josh Gross Oct 15, 2005
LEMOORE, Calif., Oct. 14 — Scott Smith, a light heavyweight fighting out of Elk Grove, Calif. considered by most to be the dark horse to win WEC’s 205-pound tournament at the Palace Indian Gaming Center, proved doubters wrong Friday night, stopping alternate Tait Fletcher (Pictures) in the finals.

Smith (9-1) walked into the cage versus Fletcher injury free, having ended his semifinal bout versus Tim McKenzie (Pictures) with strikes just 145 seconds after the opening bell.

In the finals Smith was slotted to face Justin Levens (Pictures), who slammed Jorge Oliveira (Pictures) unconscious midway through the first round of their semifinal bout. But in the best laid plans of mice and men, Levens yielded his slot to the alternate Fletcher — who sat idle in case needed — after the doctor would not let him move forward because of an injured shoulder.

“I know that’s how it works tournament-style,” said Smith, who fights out of Sacramento’s Capital City Fighting Alliance. “You gotta have guys standing by just in case somebody gets hurt. I wouldn’t have held it against him had he beat me.”

Opening the bout strong, Smith put the alternate on his back. Fletcher, a grappling product of Eddie Bravo, showed good flexibility and maneuvered his legs near Smith’s neck, where he eventually missed an omo plata attempt.

Smith tried to work on the inside with uppercuts, but each time he unleashed his hands they guided just past Fletcher’s chin. Meanwhile Fletcher began to score with elbows and it appeared as if Smith might not complete the deed he’d set out to accomplish.

Finally Smith found the range, connecting with an uppercut flush on Fletcher’s chin. He followed with a clean right hook that put his foe down on the blue canvas.

“I was working on setting up combinations,” said the new WEC light heavyweight champion. “I wanted to be a little tighter. I was sluggish first fight and kept missing with a couple of those uppercuts. But I finally caught a couple clean punches. He was good in tight, caught me with a couple of elbows, so I wanted to separate and finally got some good shots on him.”

A follow-up punch put the exclamation point on Smith’s effort, and referee Herb Dean (Pictures) rushed in to call it at 3:55 of round one. The victory in Friday’s tournament marked the first time in his career that he competed in multiple fights in one night.

Few expected him to get past McKenzie (8-3), a heavy-hitter out of Stockton, Calif. The first salvo went to McKenzie, as he unleashed a series of rights and lefts while Smith stood with his back to the cage fencing. Smith, however, weathered the onslaught and eventually moved into a position where he could trade.

The pace slowed as the fighters tied up against the cage fencing. This time it was Smith who gained the upper hand, using the Thai clinch to facilitate the slamming of one of his knees into McKenzie’s chin. The stunned fighter reeled backwards on shaky legs and with another shot from Smith went down.

“I didn’t want to be on the ground,” said Smith, who said an injured foot a month out from the fight forced him to concentrate on boxing. “I didn’t feel comfortable. I think he expected me to go to the ground and I didn’t. He was caught a little off guard there.”

Seizing on the opportunity, Smith aggressively went after McKenzie, unloading multiple shots until his opening-round challenger could do little else but cover and protect his head. Dean stepped in at 2:25 of the first to end it.

Staying loose backstage while icing body parts that hurt after his opening out, Smith learned that it was Levens who advanced in the other bracket. Displaying the scrappiness he’s fought with since turning pro, Levens (7-0) escaped countered and, eventually, slammed his way to victory over Chute Boxe fighter Jorge Oliveira (Pictures) (1-1), despite protests from the Brazilian and his camp that the referee ended it prematurely.

The Marco Ruas (Pictures)-trained fighter took the center of the cage after pre-fight instructions that had both men standing nose-to-nose. It was clear he was happy to strike — surprisingly he was the only one. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Oliveira, his camp said after the fight, had designs on submitting Levens and striking with the winner of the McKenzie-Smith bout.

But Levens made sure he wouldn’t get that opportunity.

With Oliviera working to secure a triangle choke — one of several submissions the Brazilian worked hard to finish the fight with — Levens countered by lifting him a few feet off the mat. A moment later Oliveira hurtled back-first to the canvas. His head tucked in tight to Oliveira’s midsection, Levens’ slam resembled though not quite replicated Quinton Jackson (Pictures)’s epic KO of Ricardo Arona (Pictures).

As is the case with many single-night tournaments, injuries played an important role. Backstage WEC doctors informed Levens that while an Oliveira omo plata had not succeeded in ending their fight, it would, in fact, end his night.

“I thought it would have been great,” Smith said of the potential bout between himself and Levens. “We were both underdogs. It would have been a perfect Cinderella story. He wasn’t supposed to get past Jorge. I wasn’t supposed to get past McKenzie. So I think it would have been great.”

Expect the WEC to match these two in the near future.
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