For Devonte Smith, making the choice to accept a short-notice fight was easy. It was either get ready to make his UFC debut on less than three weeks’ notice, or wait until the new year to finally make that walk to the Octagon.
Sure enough, the recent Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series contract winner signed on the dotted line to fight Julian Erosa at UFC Denver, which takes place Saturday at the Pepsi Center. Facing his most experienced opponent yet, Smith (8-1) is just glad that Erosa was as eager as he was to make that walk to the Octagon regardless of the lack of prep time.
A 25-year-old lightweight who resides in Cleveland, Smith has been putting in work with the factoryX Muay Thai team in Englewood, Colo., to stay ready for his first official UFC booking. It was that camp that guided him to success in his Contender Series appearance in August, where he knocked out Joseph Lowry with elbows inside of a round.
All of Smith’s wins have come by way of KO or submission, which may explain why he’s had trouble scheduling opponents until now.
“I asked my coach, I asked my manager, and they’re telling me it’s me,” Smith recently told MMA Fighting. “I would have thought people of their caliber would have jumped at the moment to go against a debuter. Maybe they would have thought ‘easy money, shoot, come my way,’ but I don’t know, truthfully. I’m a go off of what my coach or manager is saying. It could be because maybe they didn’t want to risk it, which is a compliment to me.
“But I may or may not be calling those specific people out after this win. So we will see.”
Smith has won four straight dating back to his lone loss, a stunning defeat at the hands of The Ultimate Fighter 27 standout John Gunther. In a fight that Smith appeared to be dominating, Gunther stormed back to eventually win via strikes in the third round. That’s one loss Smith has been wanting to avenge for some time.
Oddly, Smith’s fellow Ohioan is scheduled for Saturday’s card, but against Davi Ramos. It was a minor letdown for Smith, who briefly thought that he might get his second crack at Gunther after all.
“I actually thought that,” said Smith. “When I found out that he would be on the card, I’m like okay, cool, they may give this to me. He’s from Ohio, I’m from Ohio, that’s the only loss on my record, it was an entertaining fight for the fans and I thought they would have thrown it my way, but I think the coaching staff maybe thought that wouldn’t have been the best choice.
“I’m not really disappointed, I guess. I’m just looking forward to getting this win Saturday and moving forward.”
Regardless of who he ended up fighting, “King Kage” has been itching to get back in the cage as soon as possible, if only to show the improvements he’s made since his Contender Series win. A devoted family man who bought a house for his mother, siblings, nieces, and nephews a couple of years ago, Smith is mostly the same person in his day-to-day life.
It’s in Denver, and beyond, that he plans to let everyone see how he’s leveled up.
“The only thing that’s really changed is my work ethic,” said Smith. “It was already up there, but it’s like in overdrive. Yeah, I’m in the UFC, but I always knew I was going to make it to the UFC one day. I knew that, I knew that and I really believed that. But the hardest part is staying in the UFC. So I know the calibre of people that I will be going against in the future, meaning I have to work harder. I have to work harder than them. I have to do things that they wouldn’t do. I have to think smarter.
“I have to be a champion, even if I don’t have the belt, I know to some people it’s like I’m speaking early, but it’s what I believe and it’s what I know. I’ve got to have the mentality of a champion to be the champion, so other than that, financially it’s still a little bit of a struggle, but I know in the future it’s not gonna be like this forever. So the only thing I gotta do, is do what I do best, and that’s win.”