Heading into Saturday’s 135-pound bout against Casey Kenney at UFC Fight Night 176 in Las Vegas, Louis Smolka believes he’s in a much better state of mind than the last time he was steadily climbing the flyweight ranks.
Four years ago, Smolka was 11-1 in his MMA career before heading into a fight with fellow contender Sergio Pettis. But Pettis pulled out, so Smolka fought Brandon Moreno on Oct. 1, 2016 and lost. It was the start of a four-fight losing streak that led to Smolka’s release from the organization in 2018.
For a short period, Smolka succumbed to alcoholism but he managed to turn his life back around. He followed the four-fight losing streak by winning five of his last six fights, with two of those coming since re-joining the UFC, to run his current record to 16-6 heading into Saturday. Smolka fought in the Gladiator Challenge, Destiny MMA and CXF organizations during his hiatus from the UFC, going 3-0 in that span.
“Don’t take anything for granted, you know? At that point, that would’ve been the biggest accomplishment of my career, fighting Sergio Pettis. He would’ve been the biggest name I’ve fought, the highest-ranked opponent to date, the toughest opponent. For him pulling out, I kind of took that like an ‘Oh man, he’s scared. He doesn’t want it. This is gonna be like a walk to the title,’” the Kapolei graduate told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “When it didn’t pan out the way I wanted, I started looking for answers to like why I was so let down and why I was so upset. I started looking for answers in alcohol. It’s something that I hope others are willing to learn from me, like the future generation of fighters coming from Hawaii and just in general.
“It’s sounds cliché, but it’s almost like coming out of a daze, like coming out of a fog for me. It was like a great process for me seeing all my friends, seeing everyone who stood by me. And now, I don’t want to let them down again. I want to make them proud.”
Saturday’s fight will be Smolka’s first since a TKO victory over Ryan McDonald on Sept. 14, 2019. He was supposed to fight on March 28 in San Diego before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Smolka’s biggest concern became the health and well-being of his family, especially his baby daughter, Lucy. But with Lucy happy and healthy, Smolka is ready for Saturday’s challenge, a fight he took on short notice.
“Honestly, the short notice stuff, I kind of love this. You don’t have time to worry, to freak out, to second-guess yourself,” he said. “It’s literally just go, just figure it out right now and just go, you know? Just go out there and just scrap, just bang. Rapid-fire problem solving, figure it out as it comes and react. That’s what I like, it’s where are you right now? I’m just really comfortable with that. I feel like that’s how we train every day.”
UFC Fight Night 176, which is headlined by the main event of Tyron Woodley vs. Gilbert Burns, begins at noon HST on Saturday and will air on ESPN. Smolka’s bout is the second fight of the preliminary card.