This is a moment Cole Smith has waited his entire career for.
Squamish’s Smith (7-0) will compete on the sport’s biggest stage less than one hour away from his hometown when he welcomes Miles Johns (9-0) into the UFC for a bantamweight tilt Saturday night at UFC on ESPN+ 16: Vancouver.
Although he has competed multiple times in his home province on the regional scene, Smith said to have the opportunity to fight for the UFC so close to home is a dream come true.
“I mean, what a dream. I get to compete at Rogers Arena where some of the most famous people in the world have performed, and now locals are buying tickets to go watch me perform there now,” said Smith in an interview.
“Squamish, my town, has been so fantastic with supporting me, and I’m expecting all 20,000 of them to be out there cheering for me.”
While primarily training out of The Sound Martial Arts in Squamish, Smith also spends time at several other gyms throughout B.C., cross-training with some of B.C.’s most elite fighters.
This strong group of athletes from different gyms working together, including Tristan Connelly, Jamie Siraj, Achilles Estremadura, continues to grow in the province, making for some of the best sparring rounds the country has to offer.
“It’s really unbelievable for the city of Vancouver. All the pros who want to step up and make it to the big leagues are starting to come together,” said Smith.
“Everyone’s either fought each other at this point or they’re just never going to fight. Everyone’s coming together now; Saturday’s at Checkmat are just unbelievable. It’s really motivating.”
Smith enters Saturday’s contest coming off a win in his UFC debut at UFC Ottawa, a unanimous decision over long-time UFC-veteran Mitch Gagnon.
And while the victory, at the time, was a significant accomplishment in Smith’s young MMA career, he said it’s all in the past now and no longer has any meaning.
“It means nothing anymore. That fight was four months ago, and this sport is what have you done for me lately,” said Smith.
“I’ve finished with that one and now moved onto the next one. Every fighter’s different and every guy brings their own challenge. So, I have a new challenge ahead of me and I’m ready for this one.”
Johns Primed For Debut
Johns, 25, enters this contest in the same position as Smith four months ago, making his UFC debut.
Earning his contract via this summer’s season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Johns said he’s thankful to have had the opportunity to perform on the show and believes it’s an experience that helps prepare fighters for the UFC.
“It was an amazing experience. They provide a great platform for these new guys to get their name out there. I’ve had a lot of people hit me up on social media saying they’re looking forward to my UFC debut, and if it wasn’t for the Contender Series, these guys would have no idea who I was,” said Johns in an interview.
“It’s kind of like a gameshow; a gameshow mixed with The Hunger Games. I really enjoyed it, it’s a one-in-a-lifetime type of thing, and I was just trying to take it all in.”
Even prior to his Contender Series bout with Richie Santiago, Johns was already competing with some of the best bantamweights outside the UFC in the LFA organization where he became the bantamweight champion after defeating Adrian Yanez at LFA 55.
Johns said the calibre of competition he was facing in his time with LFA, combined with his Contender Series experience, will help him deal with the nerves and pressure that come with a UFC debut.
“I think my whole career has helped me prepare for this. Fighting for LFA, I think they bring the absolute best fighters into the UFC. You see multiple champs come from that organization,” said Johns.
“I’m no stranger to pressure and I think I’m definitely a person that rises to the occasion and fights to the level of my opponent, and a lot of the time I raise my level to beat theirs.”
Saturday’s bout will be a long way from Johns’ hometown of Dallas, TX, and only a short way from Smith’s hometown.
But despite coming into Smith’s territory as the villain, Johns said it’s the type of fight he’s been wanting his entire career.
“I think it brings some energy into the cage because he’s going to be bringing that fighting-in-my-hometown type of energy, and that’s just what I love. I love competing with the best people in the world on the biggest stages in the world. That’s what I live for,” said Johns.
“I’m looking forward to going into enemy territory and hopefully coming out with some fans.”
“I’d like to thank my town, Squamish, The Sound Martial Arts and all the coaches, and my sponsors: MJS Glazing, True Grit Drywall, and Sunny Chibas.” Follow Smith on social media: INSTAGRAM