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After Aspen Ladd weight miss, Leslie Smith says ‘it feels like the UFC is paying me off to go away’

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Part of Leslie Smith wanted to fight Aspen Ladd on Saturday night. A big part of her. Smith said it was “very f*cking tempting.”

Had she done so, though, Smith believes she would have been, in essence, compromising everything she stands for and everything she has been preaching to other fighters as one of the sport’s labor leaders.

Ladd missed weight by 1.8 pounds Friday at the UFC Atlantic City weigh-ins. Smith would have gotten 20 percent of Ladd’s purse — $2,400 total, Smith said — had she taken the fight. However, Smith said she signed a contract with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) stating she would get her show purse of $31,000 whether or not she took the fight since she fulfilled her obligations.

If she was getting paid either way, Smith said it wouldn’t make much business sense to take the fight.

“I considered fighting Aspen anyway, purely out of pride,” Smith told MMA Fighting. “And another chance to showcase my skills in the Octagon. But if I had done that, it would have been purely pride. And I would have been fighting for free since I was already getting paid the money. Fighting for free out of pride is everything that I have been speaking out against. It’s not everything — there’s more to it. The manipulation of the fighters through pride was something that I felt pretty strongly about. So I’m not fighting her, because I don’t feel like I should fight for free.”

There’s another wrinkle to Smith’s rollercoaster Friday, too. This would have been the last fight on her UFC contract. Knowing that, Smith said she told the UFC she would take the fight with Ladd if the promotion extended her deal.

“I figured I had some leverage in the situation,” Smith said. “I told the UFC that I would be willing to take the fight as long as they extended my contract. They did not want to extend my contract. Instead, they said they would pay me my win bonus in addition to my show money and that would fulfill the fight on my contract and they would not be extending it.”

Smith, 35, she’ll walk away from New Jersey this weekend with the UFC having given her the show purse and win bonus — a total of $62,000 — and her walking papers. She said the UFC considers her contract to now be over and the promotion will not be bringing her back.

Smith said she believes her outspokenness about labor issues in MMA is what cost her the spot on the UFC roster. She’s on a two-fight winning streak and has won three of four.

Smith is currently the president of Project Spearhead, an effort to determine whether UFC fighters are employees or independent contractors. Smith and those involved with Project Spearhead believe UFC fighters are employees and are seeking eventual unionization and federal protections. She has been very active on social media and in the press asking fighters to sign union authorization cards.

“It feels like the UFC is paying me off to go away,” Smith said.

A request for comment to the UFC was not immediately returned Friday.

Smith, a California resident, said she is not sure how any of this will affect Project Spearhead. But she can’t be in a union of UFC fighters if she’s no longer in the UFC.

As far as her MMA career, Smith said she would like to continue fighting. Right now, though, she’s still “reeling” from the events of Friday. She’s not too happy about Ladd and her comments, either. Ladd said she missed weight due to “female circumstances” in a social media post.

“That’s disrespectful,” Smith said. “It’s super disrespectful. First off, she’s disrespecting all the other women who fight, because we all have periods, too, and we still make weight. We have our period before our fights, during our fights and after our fights, but we still make weight. We don’t blame it one anything. It’s shady. It’s not the first time that she hasn’t made weight.”