Bellator 259 goes Friday, May 21st and is headlined by Cyborg vs Smith II. The latest Bellator MMA event broadcasts on Showtime and emanates from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. I spoke with main event fighter Leslie Smith ahead of her sequel with Cris Cyborg and her bid for the promotion’s featherweight championship of the world.
I was looking to get some insights into some of the experiences you’ve had training-wise. Because last time we were speaking, it seemed like you were splitting your time between El Nino Training Center and Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu Academy.
Can you kind of talk about the importance in the overall journey of certain individuals like Keri Melendez and Shinju Auclair?
“Yeah, totally. Something that I should have mentioned. As people have been asking me about what happened to change my game, to evolve my game. It’s training with Keri Melendez and Shinju Auclair. I mean Keri Melendez, she just has a fight understanding and a skill. Her striking and her understanding of the fight is on a whole other level. It’s a professionalism that I have learned so much from. And it’s professionalism, not just in the way that she fights but also in the way that she conducts herself in day-to-day training activities.”
“The respect that she commands from people, you know. I spent a long time really feeling like an outsider. Got to this team. I got to Cesar Gracie’s and I started cleaning the mats in order to get to be on the team. Got Cesar to be my manager in the very first place just by going off and fighting and then being like, ‘here’s some money’. So I’ve never been really highly celebrated inside the gym. That’s one way to phrase it, right?”
“So I think that that kind of affected me in a certain way. In as far as like what I accepted from my coaches, and from my teammates and what I expected from people. So being able to train and be around Keri and Shinju, it’s definitely elevated me and my professionalism. What I demand out of my training. And what I’ll tolerate out of people around me. That has made me into so much of a better fighter. Mentally, physically, just all around.”