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Leslie Smith has stomach tumor removed, hopes her plight inspires fighters to speak out

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — Leslie Smith spoke out in favor of fighter organization, and the entire situation worked out in her favor.

Last week, Smith said on AXS TV's Inside MMA that she had a tumor on her stomach that she could not afford to have removed. The UFC does not provide fighters with full-scale medical coverage, only insurance for fight-related injuries.

After the piece aired, the UFC was quick to act. Smith flew into Las Vegas on Thursday and the UFC sent her to doctor to have the benign tumor removed. Just like that, Smith got what she needed.

"It's gone," Smith told MMA Fighting. "I'm thrilled about it. I'm debating whether or not to show the video. There's a good chance I'm gonna show the video."

Smith has been public in supporting the MMA Fighters Association (MMAFA) and Thursday was in attendance at the Professional Fighters Association (PFA) press conference. Smith asked numerous questions to potential PFA chief Jeff Borris and lawyer Lucas Middlebrook at the press conference. The bantamweight fighter said she would absolutely sign an authorization card in support of a fighter union led by the PFA.

"I'm 100 percent in support of bringing together the organization of fighters," Smith said.

The MMAFA has an antitrust lawsuit against the UFC currently in litigation. It also is focused on extending boxing's Ali Act to MMA. The PFA wants a full-on union with collective bargaining rights with the UFC. Smith is hoping both groups can work together and not against one another. She's also hoping for some kind of fighter organized effort for everyone. The PFA would only be for UFC fighters.

"At the end of the day, I am gonna be for whatever is going to help the most fighters get the most benefits," Smith said. "I hope that everybody can be involved in that and we don't have the competition between the groups, because I think they can work together."

Smith, 34, said she is also hoping that her speaking out about medical insurance will inspire other fighters to do the same.

"I would hope that my experience, my very physical experience right now serve as an inspiration to the other fighters to be true to their hearts and stand up and say what they know needs to be said in front of the people who need to hear it," Smith said.

Many fighters don't want to speak out about supporting a union, because there is a fear that it would be a direct slap at the UFC. Fighters work hard to reach the UFC, the pinnacle of the sport, and there is a feeling that they don't want to bite the proverbial hand that feeds them. Smith gets it.

"Fighters are afraid, because it's a very scary thing," Smith said. "It's your employer. It almost sounds funny talking about fighters being afraid, because we have this image of fighters not being afraid. We're employees and workers and providers. We have to report to somebody else, too, and we have people we have to support as well. We don't exist in a world where we don't have bills and families and responsibilities, obligations. So it makes a lot of sense. They're probably smarter than I am is why they're not here talking."

Smith said she will continue to support both the MMAFA and the PFA. "The Peacemaker," perhaps an apt nickname, looks forward to the day when fighters have the kind of protections that those in other sports and industries get.

"[The PFA has] a clear path to getting all of us fighters that, to getting the medical [insurance] and to getting the dental and that's something I want all fighters to have," Smith said.

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