Blake Smith knows he was counted out by many ahead of his title fight with former CFFC lightweight champ Zulkarnaiyn Kamchebekov this past September. However, he never once doubted himself.
"Nobody wanted to fight Zulk," Smith said. "They were like, 'Oh yeah, let's give him to Blake. He's going to lose.' Nah. I wasn't going to lose."
Smith's path to victory at CFFC 100 wasn't easy, struggling early to get a rhythm going against Kamchybekov but doing his best to stay aggressive in the night's main event. But in the third round, with Kamchybekov hunting for a takedown, Smith snatched up a guillotine choke and secured a title win via submission.
The moment was made even more special by the venue, where a packed house was cheering on the Florida resident in his hometown at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
"It was really emotional because I was going through family stuff at the time," Smith said. "My grandmother was sick. My coach was sick in the hospital, so I didn't have my coach for like four weeks before in camp. It was just all the emotions coming forth, and then the big crowd. It was amazing."
Smith admits it took him a while to get going in that fight, with a 19-month layoff from competition forcing him to make some adjustments on the fly.
"Before that fight, it was like a year-and-a-half layoff, so it was just adapting to his reach and range took a little longer than expected, but once I found my little groove, I stayed there and got the finish," Smith said. "I pretty much stayed in his face the whole time, so it really wasn't ring rust, but it was just finding my range. He was a sniper. He's really the best dude I ever fought in the standup department, so it was just finding the right range and then following up with more. Once I figured out where I needed to be, I was good."
Smith had hoped to defend his title just three months later, but after a few different opponents fell through, his appearance was scrapped. Instead, he returns to headline Thursday's CFFC 106 event, which again streams live on UFC Fight Pass from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.
"After those fights fell through, we were just like, 'You know, let's just fight at home again," Smith said. "Everybody agreed it would be better, so we're going to come put on another performance for the home team and get another big finish."
Smith (6-2) seeks the first defense of his belt when he takes on the undefeated Paris Artis (5-0), another fighter it seems not a lot of people are in a rush to see on the other side of the cage. Smith sees a game opponent but once again believes fully in his own abilities.
"I watched a little bit of tape, and then I let my team dissect it, and we go from there," Smith said. "He's probably going to come forward, but he's kind of a muay Thai guy, and I know for a fact I have better footwork and hand speed than him. His last fight, it was tougher for him than me, but he pulled it out. I'll give it to him. He will try to find a way to win, but I'm better at that, so I'm going to win for sure."
In taking another top prospect, Smith is hoping to steal a little bit of the shine that Artis has earned in his rise to this moment. Smith may not have been on everyone's radar prior to his title win, but he thinks by continuing to notch victories over respected opponents, the big shows will certainly come calling.
"We're looking up from here," Smith said. "I don't like to talk about the future, but once this goes well, then I expect to get a call because I mean, Zulk, he was the next guy, and I beat him. I finished him. His only loss before that was to a guy that's in the UFC right now, and that at 175 pounds and it was a split decision.
"I finished a guy that's never been finished, so I'm going to make that a recurring thing: Fight the people no one wants to fight. Finish the people who have never been finished."
This story first published at CFFC.tv.