Sydney “Sundance” Smith is a hard-working, single-mother that life has thrown a fair amount of curve balls at. However, life has underestimated what this strawweight mixed martial artist can take and still keep fighting the good fight. Smith is a 5-3 amateur fighter fighting out of Waynesboro, Virginia. She is the proud mother to a four month old baby boy and she just put a check mark in the win column for her latest fight at Fusion Fight League in Montana. Sydney did what is almost unheard of in the sport of MMA. She traveled from Virginia to Montana for her fight against Genesis Rialmo alone. Money constraints kept any of her coaches and teammates from travelling with her. This led to her getting the thrill of a lifetime cornering her and helping her to victory on June 12th.
How has she changed since starting MMA and becoming a mother?
Smith answered these questions and more, when I got a chance to get to know the black cowboy hat wearing strawweight fighter.
Hello Sydney! Where did your fight name, “Sundance” originate?
Sydney: My fight name ‘Sundance’ is actually my second attempt at a cage name. My first 2 fights I went by Psycho (my ex said I needed something alliterative) and we couldn’t come up with anything else. Sundance was a pet name I had for my dad when I was growing up. He had an old gun cabinet with a drawer on the bottom and one day I was rifling through it. I found his college wallet which had his old ID’s in it along with a picture of his high school gf that said, To Sundance. After my 2nd fight my ex and I were sitting watching TV when he looked at me and just said ‘Sundance’… the rest is history! My fight name and the black cowboy hat I wear when I fight are both a tribute to my dad who passed away in 2012 from Cancer.
Describe the feeling you had, when Marvin Eastman and Roxanne Modafferi were standing in your corner during your last fight in Montana.
Sydney: So Serena (“Southpaw” DeJesus) and I had made arrangements a couple weeks before the fight for me to wrap her hands and for Marv to corner me… Idk why but it didn’t click in my brain that it was MARVIN EASTMAN until we got to Montana hahaha I think Roxy (Modafferi )may have thought I was a bit touched in the head because I came out there all by myself lol. She was a little reserved at first, and I was kind of in shock that I got to meet her in person to begin with. We got to know each other over Thursday and Friday, so when Saturday rolled around she offered to warm up with me in the cage and in the locker rooms which was SO FREAKING COOL… and then she asked if I wanted her to corner me! Ummmm, yes please!! They gave excellent advice and I could hear them perfectly the entire fight. They were both super supportive and extremely happy for my win, as if I were one of their very own. It definitely was one of the best times of my entire life.
If you could give your fight style a name, what would it be?
Sydney: Ummmm, I really have no nifty saying for my style, other than barn burner hahaha . I’m gritty and I come to bang. Everyone over the years has made note of my facial expressions when I’m in the cage, and it’s come to be known here in Virginia as the Sundance Glare.
Your last fight was your first fight since becoming a mother. Did it have any affect on your mentality going into it?
Sydney: My first fight back after becoming a mom was interesting to say the least lol Part of me was beyond ready to get in there, but it was definitely hard trying not to think about being away from him for 4 days! I’m one of the rare few who actually fight better when I’m angry, and for the love of me, I couldn’t find that same rage I normally channel I’m not sure if it had to do with my opponent being over a decade younger than me but it definitely felt different. If you watch the fight, I believe it’s in the middle of the second round, she winced pretty bad and there was a lull. The ref was asking her if she was ok, and instead of continuing to attack I literally stopped and asked if she was okay…. took me a second to be like, hey Syd… you’re in a FIGHT. LOL
How did you get involved in MMA?
Sydney: Funny story- my dad passed away in 2012 (not the funny part) and I needed a better outlet than running. I was trying to work things out with a guy I was seeing at the time, and we went to a late movie.. afterward we were looking for good and ended up at a bar downtown where we ran into one of his old friends. He used to fight and offered to train me if I hit him up on Facebook. He told me later that he never expected to actually hear from me lol. We ended up dating for over 4 years and he trained me for my first 2 fights. After that I joined the MMA Institute in Charlottesville and never looked back. It started as a way to deal with my anger (I am SUCH an emotional person lol) but it blossomed into so much more. It’s my therapy and my life now. It defines me in and out of the cage and has definitely made me into a better human being.
Have you noticed any change in people’s attitudes toward female fighters since you first started fighting in MMA?
Sydney: I think the attitude toward female fighters has changed some over the last 8 years since I started, but I haven’t ever really experienced any issues from the jump. I’ve always been one of the guys and I’ve always been treated equally no matter what. I’m expected to do exactly the same thing as the guys and that’s pretty much all I train with anyway haha. The only thing significant I will say that I’ve noticed in the past couple years is the sexualization of women fighters… and a lot of it is done by their own selves. Personally, I find it degrading and I think it takes away from the sport as a whole. Female fighters always come to put on a WAR and 9 times out of 10 they are fight of the night. We are athletes, and high level ones at that. I understand loving and appreciating the body that you’ve worked your ass off for, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a line between tasteful and borderline playboy material. Like it or not, there are young ladies out there who watch our every move and I think we have a responsibility to show them that your body is capable of WAY more than posing in slutty pictures and videos. Know your worth and keep it at all costs. But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Who has been your toughest opponent to date?
Sydney: My toughest opponent to date has always been myself. I have struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life and my mind has lost me fights that my body should have won. On the flip side, my mind has won me fights that no one thought I had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. I am not afraid of anyone’s physicality or trash talk, it’s what I whisper to myself at the end of the day that resounds the loudest.
Who is your hero?
Sydney: My hero would be Jesus Christ because without Him, I wouldn’t be in front of you today. He has never left me or forsaken me. He is my Comfort and my Strength. My Shield and my Banner. Without His sacrifice I wouldn’t be as close to God as I am, and I definitely wouldn’t have my son – who pulled me back from the brink of darkness. I owe everything I am to Jesus and I will always use whatever voice and platform presented to me to shout His praises, in the hopes that someone struggling can relate to my story and find Him too.
What advice do you have for any person (females in particular) that want to get a start in MMA?
Sydney: My best advice to anyone looking to get into MMA would be to do your homework and find a legitimate gym to join. Train hard when your tired and twice as hard when you’re not. Always keep an open mind and never slip into the trap of thinking you’re better than everyone else. You can learn from literally anyone! My advice to females looking to get into MMA is to maintain your identity and don’t sell yourself out just to become popular over night. Britain Hart said it perfectly the other night – REAL fighters will be remembered forever. You don’t need to exposed your body to win the crowd… those aren’t the fans you want anyway. Train hard, fight like there’s no tomorrow, and you WILL succeed. It’s taken me longer than most to get to where I am, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I know my work ethic has gotten me here and I can hold my head high about that.
Any particular fighter or promotion that you would like to fight for next?
Sydney: I’m currently in a title tournament for Fusion Fight League but have no idea when the next round will be. I asked about their late August card but it doesn’t seem like it’s gonna work, so probably after that. I’m paying my own way and I have an infant so I have to have a decent heads up before hand. There are a lot of moving pieces, so it takes time to situate everything and pay for everything lol. That being said, contractually, I am able to fight for other promotions as long as it’s more than 30 days before my next Fusion fight. Truthfully, I would REALLY love to fight here in Virginia one last time as an ammy so my community can come see it live. Everyone was SO HYPE about my comeback and I feel like I owe them some love in return. Plus, we don’t have baby rules for ammys, so I would get to use my elbows and knee to the face. You don’t realize how much you get used to them until they are restricted… kinda threw me off in my last fight hahaha had to keep reminding myself in certain positions ‘do NOT elbow, do NOT elbow!!’ It was weird!
Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
Sydney: In 3 years I WILL be established as a pro straw weight and I’ll be taking care of my amazing son, watching him grow and learn, and loving life. Other than that I really have no idea and for the first time in my life I’m at peace. I know wherever life leads me I will be 100% happy with my son by my side.
Thanks Sydney! Continued happiness and peace. I personally will not be surprised if we see her make her pro debut, sooner than later.
Lacey Padgett (formerly Neher) is an award winning Blogger, Freelance Journalist and Content Creator specializing in the sport of MMA. Lacey was an active member of the Women’s MMA advocacy group that fought on behalf of female fighters to get a fair shot in the UFC. After a hiatus to raise her children, Padgett is back to writing about the sport she loves.