UFC Fight Night 113’s Leslie Smith was supposed to fight an established, though somewhat inexperienced opponent in Lina Länsberg, who would have provided her with a stylistic match-up that could make for a good fight and test her in key areas. The fight would’ve allowed Smith to show that improvements she had made were not a matter of opponent, but proof of technical development and self-awareness. Now, though, Smith will face Amanda Lemos, an unknown but undefeated youngster making her Octagon debut and trying to make her name off of the established and well-regarded Smith. Today, we discuss what kind of matchmaking this represents and talk about Smith’s style, strategy, philosophy, tools and improvements.
The “Peacemaker” Smith is a 17-fight veteran who fights in a manner that eschews the type of savvy, strategy and layered technique that is oft displayed by fighters with her level of experience against the caliber of opponent she has been facing — women like Barb Honchak, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, Irene Aldana, Sarah Kaufman and Raquel Pennington. Smith is a brawler, albeit an educated one, who is defined by her willingness to engage in exchanges, take as good as she gets, and generate abnormal amounts of aggression and volume in fights.
The large majority of Smith’s success comes from the pace she sets and the ability to not only maintain, but to build on her pace, breaking her opposition down by forcing them to work at a pace their style and physical tools aren’t designed to handle. Smith allows the pressure and activity to do the work internally. She speeds up the overall process by breaking them down externally using a variety of head/body combinations. Though the large majority of her work is done at range and in the pocket, Smith is more than willing to engage in the clinch and wear on opponents in extended grappling exchanges, while chipping opponents up on the inside with short punches and knees.
Now as meat and potatoes as Smith’s game has been, there have been improvements which were on display in her last appearance against Aldana. “Peacemaker” showed her usual grit, aggression, activity and volume, pushing through distance and crashing the pocket to push back and beat up Aldana. However, there was a little more precision in her footwork as she cut the cage down and applied pressure instead of recklessly chasing.
Furthermore, Smith made it a point to use her kicks more actively as an individual weapon and to punctuate the many combinations she threw. This benefitted Smith in many ways. The first was the front kick, which allowed her to push Aldana back and to disrupt Aldana’s ability to initiate the offense. It also allowed her to set the table for her own offense. Usually Smith relies on her jab to do this, but given Aldana’s athleticism, size and power, the front kick was an effective complementary tool and provided an extra layer to Smith’s notoriously poor defense. The final benefit was the constraint it put on Aldana’s options. The leg kicks enabled Smith to punish Aldana even when the Mexican fighter was out of punching range and corral Aldana when she attempted to escape the volume produced by Smith.
These subtle adjustments provide Smith with a greater margin for error in her offense and creates an extra line of defense in regards to wrestling, essentially allowing her to pressure relentlessly without being vulnerable to offensive or reactive takedowns. This will provide her unlimited amounts of opportunities to make her pace, volume and physicality a factor against the better athletic and technical talents in the division
These improvements came just in time, as she is facing Lemos, an undefeated Brazilian wrecking ball who has finished five opponents by knockout, one by submission and hasn’t seen real adversity in the entirety of her career. Lemos is the complete opposite of the nuanced and layered Länsberg, who is the far superior striker and experienced combat-sports athlete but who is clearly on the decline in regards to physicality and athleticism. Lemos is still in her prime, showcasing top-end athleticism and aggression.
Instead of dealing with the more subtle, balanced and consistent striking of Länsberg — as it pertains to work rate, range and techniques — Smith will be faced with the more obvious and less complex striking of Lemos. Lemos is essentially a burst fighter, someone who conserves energy while stalking and waiting for an opportunity to open up with big moments of offense. The large majority of her offense is built around her right hand, which, while wild, has some diversity. She has used the straight right, the hook and the cross with a fair amount of regularity. Her left hook is the only other consistent shot she throws with the hands, as the appearance of a jab is sporadic at best and nonexistent at worst. The key to her success on the feet is that she commits to her shots completely. She is patient and smart enough to pick her spots when attempting to strike, and she is not afraid to engage in heated and extended exchanges. This assists her rather suspect defense and footwork, because opponents get fearful of the counter that may come back if they make a move toward her or throw a strike at her.
Think of Lemos as a more athletic, explosive, powerful, smaller, less physical and weaker Bethe Correia. The athleticism Lemos has allows her a lot more freedom and creativity in her striking. She is more effective leading than Correia, and she has a more active and diverse kicking arsenal. Unlike Correia, Lemos doesn’t have excellent shot selection, a concentrated body attack or anything resembling a complete and active clinch game. Correia can transition into clinches to break rhythm, control an opponent or work for takedowns, whereas Lemos is almost a liability, having been bullied, roughed up and taken down from said position.
Lemos is opportunistic in her striking and grappling. In addition to her multiple knockout wins, she has shown a willingness and commitment to finishing when the opportunity for the submission is there. While that seems to be common sense, many fighters will pass on submission attempts for fear of bad positioning or won’t commit to them for fear of being unable to finish and losing the momentum of the fight. This means their opponents have spots where they can rest and mistakes they can make that won’t be punished. Lemos’ aggression and natural instincts as a finisher don’t allow for either, which means her less-than-stellar takedown defense and clinch work aren’t nearly the problems they should be, because she will attack once the fight has been placed on the mat. Her defense hasn’t been stellar, nor has her ability to create scrambles, but she is opportunistic and good enough to hang in until an opportune moment when she can create a scramble or escape outright. When this moment comes, she commits to it completely, leaning more on explosiveness and ability than structure and technique. Lemos will often seek to punish opponents with ground-and-pound rather than submit them, but she will go all in if a submission is available. However, Lemos tries to avoid anything regarding a grappling exchange on the feet or on the mat.
There are really two types of fights in combat sports. There are important fights — fights where a title, top-10 ranking or title eliminator is in play. These fights shape the division and often have a huge amount of influence over who is pushed and paid by the promotion. The second kind of fight, and the one that pertains to this contest, is the fun fight. This type of fight is made to create action and generate the visceral response that solidifies and expands viewership. These fights usually are made up of fighters whose styles match up well and create fireworks. A fight can be both things — the very best fights are — but in this case the fight is a fun one made between two fighters who have the right strengths and weaknesses.
This fight is an example of good matchmaking. Lemos lacks a degree of physicality. She can be exposed when forced to work hard or at a pace. She isn’t particularly effective against length, volume or pressure. Smith’s whole philosophy and strategic approach to fighting is built around those tenets, enough so that they can mitigate the limitations she has that could be exploited by Lemos.
This makes for a fun match-up that guarantees fireworks because both fighters weaknesses and strength fit perfectly. It’s good matchmaking for the very same reason. For one of them to win, they are going to have to be able to counter or completely neutralize something that has historically given them problems. Smith has been stymied by better athletes and technical strikers like the aforementioned Kaufmann, Honchak and Cyborg, as well as Jessica Eye.
Each fighter has enough of specific traits to present problems, but not enough to completely overwhelm each other. Lemos has powerful striking, athleticism and is a dynamic finisher on the physical end. However, she is nowhere near the caliber or size of Cyborg or Aldana, so she can’t dictate terms of engagement in the manner they have historically. While Smith is more experienced, durable and busier than Lemos’ previous opponents, she isn’t a better caliber of athlete or a better technician. This means Lemos will have spots to work in and opportunities for success. Both women have the right tools to enact a winning game plan, but neither has the full slate of abilities or techniques to make such a conclusion a guarantee or easy work. This will force both fighters to show us a little bit more to gain the victory that can at least keep them relevant in an ever-changing division.
This is Smith’s fight to lose. In many ways, the bout echoes the recent showdown between Justine Kish and Felice Herrig, where the narrative was a battle between a young undefeated prospect with a lot of physical tools, an offensive fight style and a lot of physical ability taking a step up to fight a savvy veteran who was out to prove that her recent improvement and newfound success against a certain type of opponent wasn’t the exception but the norm. Herrig was ready to use her experience to benefit her inside the cage as much as it had outside. Kish failed in her attempt to prove she was ready for the better opposition. Kish’s lack of awareness, technical refinement and seasoning was exposed and fully taken advantage of by the veteran Herrig.
At UFC Fight Night 113 in Glasgow, we will find out if the durable, brave, active and experienced Smith can follow Herrig’s example or if she pays for her willingness to fight with a loss to the talented but unproven Lemos. A loss doesn’t do much harm to Lemos, while a win does a great deal of good. Meanwhile, Smith is really in a no-win situation. A win should be expected based on Smith’s pedigree alone, whereas a loss is devastating and reinforces the idea that Smith can’t put wins together, can’t beat a certain type of opponent and may very well be on the downside of her career. This fight may not be important to the division, but the stakes are still high for a fighter trying to build on her legacy and a fighter trying to establish one.