After 23 pro mixed martial arts bouts, Louis Smolka doesn’t think the same way he used to when it comes to prizefighting. Well, that’s not entirely true, but suffice to say that as he made his debut in 2012 against Shane Pacarro, there was only one thought in his mind.
“To be honest, when I first got into this, I didn't think it that far through,” he said. “I just saw the glory of the guys that won, and I was like, 'Yeah, I want that.' (Laughs) And then after I had been in this for a while, and I met my wife, I grew up a little and it was kind of like, we're so deep in this now, I can't do anything else to make this much money per year, so I've invested in this and I guess this is how it's gonna be now.”
In other words, we’re stuck with him.
“You guys are stuck with me,” Smolka laughs, and there’s still that joy when it comes to training and fighting, but it does get difficult when he sees what his family goes through every time he makes the walk to the Octagon, especially when he loses. That doesn’t stop the support he gets, though, especially from his wife Yumi, who is there every step of the way.
“My wife, she's been with me for a long time,” said Smolka. “She was a fan of the sport before we ever even got together, so she's always paid attention and she knows her stuff. Obviously if you're consistently losing, something's wrong. If it happens once, it could be random, but if it's twice, then something's happening that's wrong.”
The only time Smolka went through a stretch like that was in 2016-17, when he didn’t lose twice in a row, but four times. The cold streak cost him his UFC contract, but with three wins on the regional circuit, he was back in the Octagon, this time as a bantamweight. He’s gone 2-2 since his 2018 return, but he feels like he’s in a good place heading into this weekend’s bout. That doesn’t mean Yumi will be feeling the same way once the fight starts.
“She likes to watch, but it's pretty nerve-wracking to her,” Smolka said. “This is pretty much our whole financial future on the line every single time I go out there. So she can't even really watch the fights anymore. She just goes and cries, honestly, every time, and waits until it's over. She'll know when we're walking out, she'll not look at the TV and turn her phone off, and 15 minutes later, her friends will text her what happened and she'll decide if she wants to watch it or not later.”
That’s not easy on her. And it’s not easy on her husband, either.
“It hurts,” said the 29-year-old Hawaiian. “But that's part of it. When you watch the ‘Thrill and the Agony’ stuff, every time there's a fight, half of the guys on the card are gonna have the best night of their lives and half the families are ecstatic. And the other half are in shambles. It's horrible for them, it's the worst night ever. They've done all this work and they didn't get the outcome they wanted. It was like everything's been wasted. They tried so hard and it was all for nothing and it's rough, but that's what this sport is. It's a lot.”
But Smolka is a lifer, and a fighter, and this is what he does. And hey, Christmas is coming, so his daughter Lucy is likely going to want some cool presents under the tree.
“My kid needs a house. She needs her own room, she needs her own bed, she needs her own house, so let's go.”
Maybe it’s dad that wants the cool presents. Either way, it’s clear that the kid excited about getting into a fistfight and getting paid for it isn’t gone yet.
“I think it's part of being a pro athlete,” he said. “That kid never really leaves. You're able to play a game and you don't really have to grow up. I make my living playing a game. And so I don't have to grow up. I don't have to wake up every morning for a 9 to 5, going to a job that I hate for eight hours a day. I get to do what I love and feel like that kid has never really left.”