EXCLUSIVE | Scott Coker explains why he took a chance on Leslie Smith

Leslie-Smith
PhotoCred: MMA Junkie

She’s back.

After 21 months out of action, ‘The Peacemaker’ Leslie Smith will be returning to action as she has signed with Bellator MMA.

A veteran of the sport, especially in the bantamweight division, Smith started to really find her stride in 2016-2017 and still currently rides a three-fight winning streak at 135-pounds. However, Bellator doesn’t have a bantamweight division for the women so up to featherweight she’ll be going.

Ultimately, the reason for all of this in the first place boils down to the fact that Smith has been a very strong advocate for the creation of a union in MMA, particularly with her Project Spearhead campaign.

Heading into what would have likely been her final UFC fight one way or another, Smith was on the last fight of her contract. Set to face the top prospect, Aspen Ladd in April 2018, Smith would lose out on the opportunity to compete after Ladd missed weight. Thus resulting in Smith looking to renegotiate her contract to keep the fight in effect.

Instead, the UFC just parted ways with her by giving her her show and win money as if she had fought. A seemingly illogical move for a fighter on a winning streak in a shallow division…

In the end, it’s unnecessarily labeled the 18-fight veteran as a controversial MMA figure. Which made it all the more interesting to see that the UFC’s No. 1 North American competitor went ahead and picked her up. Albeit after quite some time had elapsed.

“I’ll tell ya, we definitely had our finger on the pulse of that whole situation,” Bellator President Scott Coker told BJPenn.com. “And what made me feel really comfortable was sitting down and talking to her and seeing what her beliefs were. I told my guys like, we can find common ground here. And she trains with Gilbert and Keri [Melendez], I feel very comfortable, they’re like family. And so to me it’s like, I felt very comfortable. Gilbert really wanted this to happen. And after talking to her and sitting down, I said, ‘Okay, we get it. We can make this happen.’ And we get it.

“So, you know what, if we didn’t all feel comfortable, I don’t think we would have signed her. And now she’s part of the family and we’re gonna treat her like part of the family and give her every opportunity to move forward and get the big fights.”

When and who Smith will make her promotional debut against remains to be determined according to the Bellator boss. But he expects she’ll want to get back in the cage in the coming months.

This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 4/26/2019