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Ashlee Evans-Smith knows what’s on the line at UFC 223: ‘At any moment we can get cut’

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Ashlee Evans-Smith faces Bec Rawlings at UFC 223.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Ashlee Evans-Smith has no illusions about the consequences of failure should things not go her way in her next fight.

Two appearances in 2017 yielded two defeats for Evans-Smith. First, a unanimous decision loss to Ketlen Vieira last April; then, a first-round submission loss to Sarah Moras five months later.

Up next is not only another opportunity to prove that she has what it takes to stick around in the Octagon, but what could be a fresh start in a new weight class. Evans-Smith is making the move from bantamweight down to the 125-pound division to fight Bec Rawlings at UFC 223 on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

She’s confident she’ll get the win, but is realistic about what happens to fighters on a downward trend.

“There’s not a lot of job security in the UFC,” Evans-Smith told MMA Fighting. “I’ve heard of people getting cut after winning their fights, for whatever reason, but that’s scary. Then, of course, you see people they lose one or two and they get cut. I’m on a two-fight losing streak. At any moment we can get cut. So there’s always that added fear of fighting for your job. Every fight, you’re fighting for your job. This sport is so new, MMA is so saturated with talent these days, even the women’s division, they say ‘Oh, the women’s jobs are so secure, there’s not that many women fighters.’ Bulls**t. There’s little girls out there, four or five years old hitting the pads, f**k, my job is not safe.

“There’s always pressure,” Evans-Smith added. “But with this one, I mean, I’m sorry, not to sound a little cocky because I’m not that person, but I know I’m going to beat this girl. I know I’m a better fighter all around. She fancies herself a boxer, but she’s just a scrappy street brawler who’s very tough and I won’t take that away from her. That’s not going to be enough to win when you get to this level.”

Evans-Smith is clearly feeling confident heading into the fight, which is more than she could say when the idea of cutting an extra 10 pounds was first presented to her. The 30-year-old began her amateur career in 2010 as a featherweight before transitioning to bantamweight when she saw that division become a part of the UFC.

With the 125-pound division recently being introduced in the promotion, Evans-Smith was advised to give it a shot, much to her chagrin.

“Heck no, I never saw myself competing at 125 pounds, are you kidding me?,” Evans-Smith said. “I started wrestling when I was 15 years old and I wrestled all through high school, all through college at 145, and then I started doing my amateur career in MMA, took nine amateur fights at 145, then all of a sudden the UFC says they’re going to have women at 135 so I’m like, crap, I gotta cut some weight. So then I made the cut down to 135, my body adapted and I thought, ‘Phew, wow, okay I’m a 135er.’

“Then all of a sudden they want to add flyweight and everyone’s like, ‘Hey Ashlee, you’re looking lean.’ So this 145er, being a 145er my whole life, never did I think I was going to fight at 125 someday.”

While Evans-Smith is used to adapting to the unpredictable and unforgiving nature of the hurt business, she doesn’t think that fighters should be apathetic when it comes to trying to get themselves leverage. After having conversations with fellow fighters Leslie Smith and Kajan Johnson, two outspoken athletes who are currently involved with getting the Project Spearhead movement going, Evans-Smith wants to become more involved in getting her peers and herself a seat at the negotiation table with the UFC.

“I still maintain the stance that I want to be educated, but at the same time I don’t want to be blacklisted,” Evans-Smith said of her past reluctance to get involved with attempts by fighters to unionize. “So I kind of felt like a weenie. I didn’t really say, ‘Yeah, let me take a huge stance on this position,’ but I listened. But now, as of just a few weeks ago, I said f**k it, you know? Here’s the thing: I’m coming off two losses, I’m going to fight my heart out this next fight and I have no doubt in my mind I’m going to win, but at the same time it’s MMA and anything can happen, so that puts me low woman on the totem pole.

“But that’s not gonna make me shut up about what I think is right. So I signed the Project Spearhead card and once they get enough members then we can start voting. I signed it and the other day I started posting about it on my Instagram story. I just realized I got the name ‘Rebel Girl’ for a reason, I’m not gonna sit back and not be a part of a rebellion basically, a movement that gives the fighters more rights. ... I’m still scared, don’t get me wrong, but just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something. I think it’s a great thing and I think that worst case scenario, if nothing happens, at least we f**king tried.”

Should her UFC run come to an end on Saturday, Evans-Smith has already begun to establish a side gig that she hopes will blossom into a full-time job in the future when her fighting days are done. Journalism has always been a passion dating back to her days running her college newspaper and she’s set up a YouTube channel where she interviews other fighters and personalities in the MMA community.

She maintains that her number-one goal is still to be a world champion, but being on the other side of the microphone has proven to be a new and refreshing challenge for her.

“It’s been great. It’s been a really fun experience,” Evans-Smith said. “It’s definitely a possible post-fight career option for me and I love it so much. I’m in fight camp, so I kind of put it aside for now, but I can pick it right back up afterwards and ideally, the point would be to create this online resume with my YouTube channel and hopefully get picked up by someone awesome like the UFC or FOX or whoever. I’d love to stay in this sport forever since I can’t fight forever.”