PunchDrunk w/ Bellator MMA Broadcaster Jimmy Smith
Former math teacher Jimmy Smith is now one of MMA’s most well respected and knowledgeable commentators (even getting some love from the rival UFC’s Joe Rogan.) A high-school and college club wrestler, Smith turned to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, also while at UCLA. Having been with Bellator practically since the beginning, he took some time to reflect with me on his career, and the evolution of both his home promotion and the sport of MMA as Bellator’s 150th event is right around the corner.
“After I graduated I was driving through Huntington Beach and saw a sign that said "Brazilian Jiu Jitsu", I signed up and it happened to be Team Punishment, (UFC legend and former Light Heavyweight champion) Tito Ortiz' team. So naturally I started helping guys out for fights and received a call from my coach one Friday afternoon and he asked if could fight Sunday. That was how my MMA career started.” After compiling an impressive number of wins early in his career (a 5-1 pro career with three bouts under popular indie promotion, King of the Cage and one first round submission finish by Kneebar, two by Armbar and one by Heel Hook) Smith surprisingly retired from active competition in 2006. Although his career in the cage had come to a close, his career in the sport had just begun. After hanging up his gloves, his first foray into the broadcasting world came about through Discovery Channel. The network was the home of “Fight Quest” (watch the pilot episodehere), which aired two seasons between 2007-2008. “It was a life-changing experience in so many ways. The travel was amazing, the people were incredible, and the mental toughness it taught me was invaluable. We got hazed a million times in that show. We fought in impossible situations so regularly that we didn't even notice after awhile. I think that translates into so many areas in life. Seeing the whole range of the martial arts spectrum was another thing that was unexpected. I never did martial arts as a kid, so I got a crash course in every style and philosophy all at once.” “I was a commentator for M1 Global for (founded in 1997 and presently active) several years. Some of the people who had worked there with me had gone on to Bellator. When they needed a commentator a few of those guys recommended me and I got the gig.” Formed in 2008, Bellator welcomed Smith just two years later. Having gotten in really on the ground floor, he has seen the promotion transition from its original tournament format (similar to the UFC) as well as a change in ownership from Bjorn Rebney to former Strikeforce President Scott Coker in 2014. Smith was open in his comparison of leadership as Coker has helped to further strengthen the organization as one of the top in the world. “Bjorn and I had our issues for sure. He had a micromanaging style and he changed his mind a lot, that’s never a good combination. I nearly left over some contact issues before they got straightened out. Scott Coker is much more relaxed. He really keeps to promotional concerns: fighter contracts, venues etc. He trusts everyone else to do their jobs well. It's a refreshing change.” Widely viewed as “number two” and criticized for promoting name value/celebrity/”super-fights” (like this past weekend’s Shamrock vs. Gracie III and Dada 5000 vs. Kimbo Slice bouts at Bellato 149) the rapid-fire combat sports voice didn’t shy away. “My philosophy is always that the fans are in charge of what they want to see. They vote with their remote every time they tune in to watch a fight. I haven't watched pro wrestling since I was out of elementary school, so I understand the natural reluctance to see a crossover of "WWE"-style promotion. The issue is that names like CM Punk and Kimbo Slice sell. Look at the amount of press that has been devoted to CM Punk even though he hasn't even fought! If fans didn't respond to these names, promotions wouldn't use them. It up to the fans to decide who they want to see, the promotions will follow.“ As Bellator celebrates it's history next week, the former math teacher offered up a basic formula for continued success:
“Not only does Bellator have some great talent and put on some great shows, they also get fighters PAID. Lots of people complain about fighter treatment and fighter pay. The best way to make sure fighters have bargaining power is by making sure the marker stays free and open. The more people who watch Bellator, the more Bellator can offer free agents and shake the market up. That’s good for every fighter and every fan.”
InsideSTL.com will be covering Bellator 150: Galvao vs. Dantas II live from the Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kansas on February 26 starting at 8 p.m. on Spike. Headliners Marcos Galvao and Eduardo Dantas meet in a rematch for the Bantamweight (135 lbs.) championship, the event will also feature long-time Bellator warrior (it’s meaning in Latin) David Rickels and UFC veterans Kendall Grove and Cheick Kongo.