Based on Devonte Smith’s first UFC call-out, it might not sound like he has the loftiest of goals.
Following a first-round knockout of Joseph Lowry on the season finale of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, a win that earned the 25-year-old lightweight a UFC contract, Smith already had a name in mind for his major league debut: recent Ultimate Fighter contestant John Gunther.
Given Gunther’s relatively low position on the totem pole (he actually twice failed to pick up wins in the TUF 27 lightweight tournament before taking a majority decision victory over Allan Zuniga in his first official UFC fight in July), the call-out was a curious one, but the two have a history. It was Gunther who handed Smith his only loss in nine professional fights thus far, and footage from their bout was used to build up Gunther’s reputation on the show.
Smith, who goes by the moniker of “King Kage”, had thought his business with Gunther was long behind him, but after seeing the shine that his fellow Ohioan was getting, he felt compelled to right a wrong.
“When I lost to John Gunther, I never wanted to fight him due to the fact that I didn’t want to fight him on a local level,” Smith told MMA Fighting. “But I’d seen where I was going and I thought that he was going to be done, but once I seen that he got on the TUF show I was like, okay, again, that’s his blessings, I was happy for him, I can’t hate on him.
“But once I actually found out that he’s in the UFC. And he won a fight? I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the first person I want then.’ I want to get that back on the more national stage. After him, we’ll be going for other people, but right now that’s my main focus, getting my feet wet and feeling the pressure of the actual UFC, being in there. And getting back my one and only loss. Because seeing that on TV, seeing me winning and then losing and just knowing that makes him feel good, I just want to take that away from him. Once he’s done fighting, I don’t want him ever to say, ‘I beat King Kage’ — no, he beat ‘Johnny Kage’ because that’s what I went by back then — but I don’t want him to ever feel that that was meant to be.”
Though he has a lot of respect for Gunther, Smith has come a long way since they fought in January of last year. Since then he’s rattled off four straight wins, including a 90-second KO of UFC veteran Justin Edwards. After the Edwards win, there was no doubt in Smith’s mind that he was UFC-ready and he stepped up his game by changing management and heading to Englewood, Colo., to work with the factoryX team in preparation for the Contender Series.
Training at high altitude with a bevy of high-level MMA veterans helped Smith level up, but the plan for now is to stay primarily in Cleveland, where he lives in a house that he bought two years ago for his mother and his entire family, which includes four siblings and a niece and nephew. He’s aiming to land on the upcoming Fight Night card in Denver, which would line up perfectly with a return to the factoryX gym.
One thing Smith doesn’t want is for people to think he has a lack of ambition just because he knows what he wants next. If anything, he’s viewing a fight with Gunther as a necessary evil so that he can begin his proper climb to the top of the charts.
“When I was fighting Joe Lowry, probably the week of I wasn’t even worried about Joe Lowry anymore, I was thinking about Gunther,” said Smith. “I’m already to the next guy because Joe Lowry was just an obstacle in my way. So the week of Gunther, I’m probably not even going to worry about Gunther, I’m going to be thinking about the next guy because Gunther is just an obstacle in my way.
“But the goal is always to fight the top, fight the best, but I’m going to move a lot smarter than a lot of people and I’m going to make the right moves because once I get there I’m gonna shine bright and I’m gonna take over. In the interview, I was talking to Laura (Sanko) and I told her I’m coming for everybody Dana White got and I’m coming for everything they have. And that’s true. That’s facts.”