The Jack Brown Interview: Jimmy Smith from cage to commentator
This is number fourteen in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature Bellator color commentator, Jimmy Smith. Smith is a former MMA fighter and currently one of the top MMA broadcasters. Please enjoy our conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Jimmy Smith: My first real experience with combat sports was at UCLA. I wrestled in high school, but UCLA didn’t have a team. So a bunch of ex-wrestlers would use the matted room at the Wooden Center and wrestle a couple of times a week. One day a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor walked in and invited me to attend his BJJ class that night in the same room. I tried it out and loved it immediately.
I was training at Team Punishment after I graduated (it was Fabiano Iha Jiu-Jitsu at the time), and wanted to go to UCLA for graduate school. I didn’t get admitted that semester and decided to try going pro. I took my first fight with 2-days’ notice and won in 30 seconds.
JB: You competed in a number of BJJ tournaments. What was your most satisfying accomplishment in BJJ and what are some of your favorite submissions?
JS: My most satisfying experience in BJJ was submitting Jeremy Williams in a superfight at the No Limits tournament in Irvine. I saw Jeremy fight at Gladiator Challenge when I was first getting started and I was blown away by his abilities. His death a short time later really bothered me.
I’m known for my leglocks, my armbar, and my triangle. Fabiano had a great armbar and Rey Diogo (my current instructor) has a really aggressive guard. I’ve tried hard to pick those two things up.
JB: Your first professional MMA fight was a decision win. What do you recall about that fight back in 2003?
JS: Its funny, the fight with Matt Stansell was actually my second fight. My first fight was an armbar win at an event called “Neutral Grounds” that used to be held in San Pedro. Back before fights were sanctioned a lot of fights were under the radar I guess.
The fight with Matt taught me a lot. He had been blown away in the fight before by my teammate Joe Camacho at 155, so I thought I would do the same. I remember thinking, “Wow, he got bigger!” Matt told me later he spent the whole time between losing to Joe and fighting me working out and focusing on strength. My initial plan was to take him down and submit him. I took him down quickly, but I was too nervous and he swept me and transitioned to full-mount. I remember thinking, “No way it’s ending like this.” I rolled him and we were stood up. I changed my plan right there and decided to move forward and box the entire time. It worked and I won a unanimous decision. It was a tough fight and a learning experience.
JB: You have a very respectable 5-1 record, and your only loss was a split decision against former TUF participant, Andy Wang. What do you remember about that fight and how did that loss affect you?
JS: I remember the rounds went by FAST against Andy. It was in the early days of sanctioning in California and they had three-minute rounds. My timing felt off and we nullified one another on the ground. By the time I found my range and started hurting him in the third round, the bell rang and time was up.
I didn’t take the loss too badly, but I remember really wanting to get back in the cage ASAP and bury it under another win. It taught me to work my game faster in a fight.
JB: Your last MMA fight was a win, against fellow commentator, Jason Chambers, back in 2006. What contributed to your decision to stop fighting and what do you think of your fighting career in retrospect?
JS: It wasn’t really a decision to stop fighting. A week after I beat Jason I got the audition for “Fight Quest” and I was on the road later that year filming it. There wasn’t much money to be made fighting on the local scene for me. I was never a huge ticket seller and for the main event fight against Jason I got something like $1200 for my purse (and that’s with the win bonus). So putting things on hold to do TV work wasn’t a difficult choice.
I was a good fighter who worked really hard in the gym. I would have had to drop to 155 to get to the next level, and who knows how far I would have gotten? I’m very happy with the way things worked out for me in the end.
JB: How did you make the transition to broadcasting and what have been some of your favorite experiences thus far?
JS: I got an email one day from Jerry Millen. He was the former VP at Pride and wanted me to come to Amsterdam the next week to do commentary for an M1 show. Apparently he needed a commentator last-minute and had seen “Fight Quest.” He sent a message to Doug and me that said whoever got back to him first would get the gig. I wrote first.
The Chandler/Alvarez fight stands out as the best MMA fight I have ever been privileged to call. Those real moments, like seeing Will Brooks cry after winning a fight for his mom, those things are awesome and I’m lucky to be a part of it.
JB: You’re well known as the color commentator for Bellator FC. What have been some of the most memorable Bellator fights that you have commentated on?
JS: Chandler/Alvarez has to be the best I’ve commentated on. Pat Curran/Marlon Sandro was amazing and the Joe Warren/Joe Soto comeback was unbelievable. When Emmanuel Newton upset King Mo, I literally jumped out of my seat.
JB: Besides the current champions, who are just a few of the Bellator fighters that you think will become future stars?
JS: Emmanuel Newton turned a lot of heads with that last KO, and Shahbulat Shamhalaev looks LEGIT at 155. I think Will Brooks has the talent to be a beast if he makes the right technical adjustments.
JB: I really enjoyed your episode of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. What was that like for you and what kind of a response did you get from fans after your appearance?
JS: Hanging out with Joe on his podcast was a ton of fun. We’ve always had a lot of respect for one another, and to sit down with another MMA junkie and talk about the sport for a few hours was awesome. The fan response was actually pretty overwhelming for me. I got more tweets about that than I do about most Bellator shows. He has a devoted following and he certainly earned it.
JB: Last question, Jimmy, and thank you so much for doing this. You have a very successful television career, but what other plans or goals do you have for the future?
JS: I just want to see the sport grow. It’s easy for people to forget that I was a fan and a fighter before I was ever a broadcaster. I just want to see MMA entrenched in the American culture as much as possible, and to be a part of it as it grows. Spike is keeping me busy right now and I hope it keeps right on going.
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