Gilbert Smith entered his Bellator MMA debut on March 4 on the strength of a two-fight winning streak, a victor in four of his previous five bouts. However, trials outside the cage were interfering with his professional career.
Smith met Fernando Gonzalez at Bellator 151, struggled through three lethargic rounds and lost a split decision. What was not known to most at the time was that the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion had been beset by distractions. Looking back, he admits his personal life was in shambles.
“I wasn’t injured or anything like that, but I did have a lot of personal issues going into that that fight,” Smith told Sherdog.com. “When you’re a fighter, you lead two lives: your fighter life and your personal life. At that time, I was going through a lot of personal issues that affected me both mentally and emotionally.
“I took the fight on short notice, too,” he added. “I fought that fight on pure guts. I had no strategy going in. I didn’t focus on my technique, and I just went in there to just fight him. My mind was elsewhere. I still came up with a split decision loss, and looking back on that fight and knowing what mental condition I was in, Fernando should have smashed me.”
Smith claims to have resolved the issues that were hounding him and plans to return to the form that made him a champion on the regional circuit. He will be back in the cage at Bellator 162 on Friday, when he faces Ricky Rainey in a preliminary welterweight clash at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I’ve gotten my personal life together now, and I’m re-focused on what I need to do,” said Smith, who has never suffered back-to-back defeats in his 17-fight career. “That loss is what woke me up, and it forced me to snap out of it and get my personal things fixed. That loss was devastating, and it forced me to do a lot of soul searching. Everything is good right now, though, and unfortunately for Ricky Rainey, he won’t get the same pleasure of fighting a really s----- version of Gilbert Smith.”
Rainey, 33, has been on the Bellator roster for two years. Wins over Andy Murad, Johnny Cisneros and Jesse Juarez have been offset by losses to Chidi Njokuani and Michael Page. Smith sounds unimpressed with his overall set of skills.
“He doesn’t really bring too much to the table,” he said. “He doesn’t bring anything I haven’t seen. He’s not a flashy guy like Page. He’s not a long, lanky guy like Njokuani. He’s not a knockout artist like Douglas Lima or Brennan Ward. He’s not a huge submission guy. He’s basically just an MMA fighter, and for me, it’s pretty easy to come up with a game plan.
“Now, I’m not saying this is going to be an easy fight,” he added. “No, no, no. No fight is ever easy, and I respect every opponent I have. What I’m saying is that the way he fights -- his style -- is easy to game plan for because he doesn’t bring any one thing that I really have to worry about. He’s a good fighter with good skills in all aspects, but he’s not super threatening in one area where I have to bring in a specialist to train for.”
A qualifier on Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, Smith has certain expectations regarding how Rainey will approach the fight.
“He’ll definitely fight me differently than how he did in his last fight, which was against Njokuani, who is a long, lanky guy,” he said. “I can see him trying to fight me at a distance and use his height and reach against me to keep me away. I would be surprised if he tried to take me down and try to wrestle with me; that would make my night that much easier. If I was him, I would try and keep this fight standing.”
Nevertheless, Smith has learned to expect the unexpected and rely on his own talents.
“It all depends on what unfolds inside the cage,” he said. “When I fought Benjamin Smith last summer, I took him down and submitted him. My next fight was against Bristol Marunde, and I stood with him and broke his jaw. So it all depends on what he does, what I do and how I think I will benefit from what’s happening. Either way, I know I will have my hand raised at the end.”