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Jimmy Smith on his UFC contract: I’m not here to take Joe Rogan’s place

Former Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith discusses his new UFC contract, duties, working with Joe Rogan, best/worst parts of commentary and more.

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Powerful JRE

A little over a week ago, an announcement was made that Bellator and longtime color commentator Jimmy Smith had parted ways. Both sides stated the professional split was an amicable one, and word made its way around the various media outlets that Smith, long considered to be one of the best commentators in the industry, was being courted once again by the UFC.

This marks the second time Smith’s services have been sought after by the biggest promotion in the sport. About two ½ years ago, UFC lead color commentator Joe Rogan revealed to me during one of our interviews that he’d been actively trying to bring Jimmy over to Octagon-side, but had been unsuccessful when Viacom made a better offer. This was later confirmed to me by Jimmy during an interview with the Three Amigos Podcast.

Now, after four years, Smith has officially been welcomed into the WME-IMG family. A contract has finally been signed, sealed and delivered. I secured an interview with Jimmy, who detailed some of the finer points of his contract, commented on the rumors swirling around his split from Bellator, gave his picks for 2017’s best moments, what he loves about commentary and what his funniest moment inside the cage has been thus far.

Stephie Haynes: The decision to throw you a lowball offer that ultimately led to you parting ways with Bellator, did that come from Viacom or from someone lower down on the chain of command?

Jimmy Smith: I don’t really know. I mean, people can speculate it was from Viacom, but “Viacom” is like a catchall term that refers to someone higher up than the person you’re talking to. But to be completely honest, I don’t know where it came from.

Stephie Haynes: Were the negotiations with the UFC smooth and easy to navigate?

Jimmy Smith: Yeah, absolutely. People know that Joe [Rogan] has been trying to bring me over to the UFC for more than four years now. He’s been talking me up to them for a long time and there had been negotiations before when I was in between contracts, so it’s no surprise. Now, they have the best opportunity to have my whole career. I was a free agent with no contract for the first time, but they were very friendly and things went really well.

Stephie Haynes: How does it feel to finally be part of the UFC team?

Jimmy Smith: I’m thrilled to be here. It’s been a long time coming and I’m actually getting jittery because I’m looking forward to it so much. It’s a whole new world of fights and fighters, a whole new team—everybody over there has told me how excited they are that I’m coming over—it’s like I’m starting over again. I’m the new kid at a brand new school and I’m really excited about everything coming up. I get to be a part of the best promotion in the world and that’s huge for me. It’s the pinnacle of my career.

Stephie Haynes: You and Joe have been friends for a long time and he was instrumental in getting you in the fold. I know you’re both color guys, but is there any possibility we get a Jimmy/Joe booth for an upcoming event?

Jimmy Smith: We certainly could. I went to Vegas and met with Dana and everybody, and one of the things they told me was, ‘We like the fact that you can do a lot of different things,’ so trying out different combinations and different teams is part of the fun. Now, they’re doing three-man booths frequently, which they didn’t do before, so something like Anik, me and Joe is certainly a possibility. It’s all up to the UFC on how they want to use me, but I’m down for anything. I can’t imagine we won’t at least once.

Stephie Haynes: As far as your contract, what’s your role? Are you slated for stateside events, foreign events, a mixture of both? Any idea of how many shows a year you’ll be doing?

Jimmy Smith: They can use me for whatever they want, whenever they want. The way it’s laid out is that I can do standup stuff in terms of the FOX studio offerings, I can do features like their Top 10 Knockouts kind of thing, commentary—everything is laid out, and it says, ‘We can use you for anything we want,’ and I went, ‘Great!’ It doesn’t matter. I’ll travel, it doesn’t matter to me, I love traveling. Nothing’s off the table.

Stephie Haynes: The media and fans have been speculating for the last few years about Rogan’s decreasing number of shows, so to address the elephant in the room, are you replacing Joe?

Jimmy Smith: Nope. There are two things I want to make really clear. I’m not replacing Joe Rogan. Joe is still active with the UFC this year, so it’s not like I’m coming in and he’s leaving. The other thing I want to address is that people have some idea that I was somehow pushed out by Mauro [Ranallo] and Goldie [Mike Goldberg], that signing them kind of pushed me out. They were looking forward to working with me for years. They were easy to work with, fun to work with, and furthermore, they do a different job. They’re play-by-play guys. Nobody pushed me out of Bellator and I’m not pushing anybody out of the UFC.

Stephie Haynes: What are you looking forward to most in coming over to the UFC?

Jimmy Smith: I’m looking forward to commentating on the competitive quality that the UFC offers. It’s the biggest and best promotion in the world, and I can’t wait to be able to call the incredible fights they have in great abundance. I’m looking forward to that competitive energy, that ‘anything can happen’ vibe where anyone can suddenly rise to stardom. That happens a lot in the UFC and I’m looking forward to being there when it happens.

Stephie Haynes: We’re seeing a lot more UFC fighters testing the free agency waters when their contracts are up, heading over to Bellator and then having a bad run. What’s your take on that?

Jimmy Smith: A lot of them don’t take it seriously. They treat it like it’s a victory lap. Like one guy recently came over, and he talked about how he wanted to retire as champion. Don’t. Say. Retire. When you start thinking that way, once your head is in that space, you’re done. The guys who have been successful, really took it seriously and took it as a new start for their careers. They were focused and committed to their success. The ones that came over that haven’t found success seemed to be dismissive of their opponents. You can’t do that, you just can’t.

Bellator might be Number 2, but they have some killers over there. What the UFC has that Bellator doesn’t is real depth in their divisions. There’s 10-15 guys/ladies in every division that are top level competitors. Past the Top 5 in Bellator, you start having problems. To make a Top 10 in Bellator, around Number 8, you start running out of people. The elite fighters are good, but they have real problems with depth.

Stephie Haynes: MMA in general feels like it’s taken a bit of a downturn over the past few years. Would you agree with that statement?

Jimmy Smith: I think our standards have gotten a lot higher. Five or six years ago, if you were a casual fan and knew who an MMA fighter was, that was a big deal. If you were walking down the street and somebody had on an Anderson Silva shirt, that was a big deal. Now, you have huge crossover stars, so the bar just got set really high. When people say to me, ‘There are no stars anymore,’ well, I remember back in the day, if you even knew what MMA was, it was huge.

I also think people have forgotten just how far we’ve come as a sport. Part of it also comes down to the hardcore fans having that feeling that the sport isn’t theirs anymore. When that indie band becomes big and you’re there going, ‘I remember when I was the only one who knew who Tool was.’ It’s become a lot more commonplace, and that’s the tradeoff with getting big and taking massive steps forward.

The Jimmy Awards

Fight of the Year:

This is going to be sentimental, but Derek Campos and Brandon Girtz. If you saw that fight… man! Brandon Girtz lost that fight because of a cut on his forehead, and if I didn’t tell you, and just showed you a picture, you’d think he got shot in the forehead. They just stood toe-to-toe and went, ‘I dare you to knock me out.’ It was an incredible fight. With the guts those guys showed, that has to be my fight of the year.

Knockout of the Year:

Rose Namajunas over Jędrzejczyk was awesome. The buildup, the knockout itself, the fact she was such a big underdog, it all came together for a perfect storm. Joanna was considered the better striker, but that left hook was beautiful, and it’s got my vote for knockout of the year.

Submission of the Year:

Mighty Mouse. It was so special and if you showed me that in class—and I’ve been grappling for a long time—I’d say, ‘That might work on a white belt if you’re lucky.’ But he does it in a title fight against a top guy. It was wild and crazy and out of the blue. It had everything. That was some Bloodsport shit!

Fighter of the Year:

I’m going with Robert Whittaker because of where he came from to where he went to. He came out of nowhere and he beats Jacare and Romero and Brunson before them in just an 8-month span. He went from not exactly unknown, but fringe contender straight to virtual champion in less than a year, and that’s really impressive to me.

2018 Goals:

This is gonna sound kind of cheesy, but my goal is that I want to win over the fans this year. I get to introduce myself to a whole new set of fans, and I honestly want to win them over.

Stephie Haynes: Are you a little nervous about making the leap to the other side?

Jimmy Smith: Yeah, I am. It’s that new kid on the first day of school feeling [laughs].

Prediction for 2018:

There’s been so much talk about weight cutting changes—they want to make hydration tests and new rules—so I think we’re going to see a lot more “superfights” as these fighters change weight classes. As they start making changes to how they cut weight and make it harder for them to cut too much weight, we’re going to see more and more float around, especially in the lighter divisions.

I think we’re going to see a lot of shifts from 125-155. I think there may even be some rule changes where it just makes more sense for them to move up a class and as a result, champions are going to start colliding. I think it’s going to be a big story in 2018.

Stephie Haynes: What’s the best part of being a commentator?

Jimmy Smith: I’ve got the best seat in the house. I’m cageside getting to do what I absolutely love, and I’m getting paid for it. To have that opportunity is huge to me.

Stephie Haynes: Have you ever been approached to do commentary for something outside sports like a wedding or a bachelor party or a gender reveal party?

Jimmy Smith: No, I can’t say that I have, but I will say that nobody ever wants to go after me at anything where a toast or a speech is involved. My best friend recently got married and I did the toast speech and his cousin came up and said, ‘Yeah, I don’t really want to follow that, he talks for a living, but…’ I’ve never been asked to do anything like that yet, but I would do it [laughs].

Stephie Haynes: What’s the worst part of commentary?

Jimmy Smith: That everything is subjective. No matter who the commentator is, there will be fans that love them and those that hate them. There’s no objective criteria for what makes a good commentator. Play-by-play is a much more structured job. There are certain benchmarks you have to hit, but color is way more subjective.

When I was at Bellator, my bosses and my bosses’ bosses are not necessarily MMA people, they’re TV people. I answer to a producer, and an executive producer at Spike or Viacom or whatever. They’re not fight people. If I call something a heel hook and it’s a straight foot lock, they’re not gonna know the difference. The fans know the difference, though. They’re the ones that keep you honest. When you make a little mistake—and it bugs me for a week when I do—those executives don’t know it, but the fans do, and they’re the ones that will keep you on the straight and narrow.

Stephie Haynes: What’s been the funniest moment in your career?

Jimmy Smith: Oh my God, there have been quite a few, but one of them, I’d have to say, was when Alexander Shlemenko won his belt. He knocked out Maiquel Falcao and finally became the middleweight champion in Bellator. Like the only word he knew was “Fuck” in English. He’s so excited, ‘I champion, fucker!’ I’m holding the mic, trying not to crack up on air, and he’s excited and he wants to talk, but “Fuck” is like the only exciting word he knows in English. He was ‘Fuck Bellator! Fuck champion! Fuck! Fuck!’ I was just dying. The emotion you saw on his face—he was like a little kid—but the only word that kept coming out of his mouth was “Fuck.”

I just imagine at home for the fans, ‘Bellator bleep! Champion Bleep! Bleep! Bleep!’ That was a funny one and I remember it well.

Stephie Haynes: Any words for new fans?

Jimmy Smith: I’m looking forward to getting to know everybody in 2018. Please keep up with me on Twitter and Instagram @JimmySmithMMA for both. This is going to be a big year and I look forward to sharing it with everyone.