UFC's Ashlee Evans-Smith rebels against notion that journalists aren't tough

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5 min read

LAS VEGAS — As a profession, journalists aren’t the toughest folks on the planet. Let’s be real. Journos do a lot of sitting around typing, eating free food and often their idea of training is asking others how theirs is going.

We aren’t going to compete with football players, Navy SEALs or even construction workers when it comes to sheer physical toughness.

But hey, even I rebelled in the summer when UFC president Dana White called MMA journalists the “weakest, wimpiest people on Earth.” Now, I wasn’t going to challenge him to throw down to prove a point, but I could point to one of his own fighters to make my argument that some journalists are tough.

Women’s bantamweight contender Ashlee Evans-Smith, who fights Norma Dumont on Saturday at Apex, went to college intent on becoming a journalist. And while she hasn’t made her mark in the business yet, she is hosting a successful podcast while still competing that is keeping her close to her roots.

“I did want to be a journalist in college and that’s not completely off the table,” she told Yahoo Sports. “I’d kind of like to think I’m dipping my toe into the journalism field right now with podcasting. I feel like podcasting, that is a very popular and growing medium. You can use it for journalism. You can use it for storytelling, whatever you would like.

“I’m doing that with my podcast, which this is going to sound like shameless self promotion, but it’s called ‘Sex and Violence with Rebel Girl.’ I talk to high-level MMA fighters or other experts in their fields about love and romance and dating and their sex lives. It’s a different spin, but it’s a form of journalism.”

There have been unexpected benefits, as well as a few not-too-surprising downsides of doing such a podcast. The downside has come from the men who for whatever reason think it’s all right to send nude photos of themselves to her.

But the positive has been that she’s been able to work on a potential second career and have some success in the process. Her podcast is in the 95th percentile of all podcasts, she said, after six months.

She hasn’t devoted herself slavishly to it, yet it’s been well-received, is growing and is something that could become a success with consistency and a little TLC.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 27: Ashlee Evans-Smith poses on the scale during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on November 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Ashlee Evans-Smith poses on the scale during the UFC weigh-in at Apex on Nov. 27, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

She said she’s optimistic about its future even though it’s always difficult to build a large audience. For every Joe Rogan, who can make a podcast that gets millions of listens and earns him millions of dollars, there are thousands that are all but anonymous.

“Because of the platform I have [of fighting in the UFC] and the name I’ve built over the years, more people are paying attention than probably would have otherwise, which is kind of silly,” she said. “What the hell do I know about sex? It’s not like I’m some expert on sexuality or anything like that. I’m just an athlete but it seems like they’re paying attention.

“Some people are taken aback by the topic like, ‘Oh my God. Why would you choose that topic to talk about?’ A lot of others are thanking me and have said, ‘This is such a nice spin and such a change from the normal topics we hear.’ I’ve had a really good reaction from the guests I’ve had, who have been 90 percent fighters. They’re just so happy to be talking about something other than, ‘Hey, how’s fight camp going?’ ”

But this fight camp has been important for Smith. She has dropped three of her last four fights, and fighters who lose four of five in the UFC generally don’t hang around very long unless they’re extraordinarily popular.

Smith knows she’s up against it, but she’s always fought with that attitude, she says. She remembers a speech that White gave to the fighters backstage following a weigh-in before one of her early UFC bouts, and it stuck with her.

“I’m not going to lie; I’ve looked at every single fight the same way,” she said. “When I took my first UFC fight on two weeks’ notice, people were saying to me, ‘Well, you have nothing to lose.’ But I never felt that way. Every fight, I feel like I have everything to lose. I remember the thing that Dana said backstage, and he probably says it a lot, but to me, it rang so true. He said, ‘Hey guys, it’s really hard to get here, but it’s a lot [expletive] harder to stay here.’

“That’s so true. It’s not like once you make the UFC that all of a sudden it’s a breeze. It’s a cliche, but it is because it’s true, and that’s that every single fight is your most important fight. There’s a little job security for people who are on a three-, four-, five-fight winning streak, but this is a business where you can never really be secure. People are getting signed left and right, they’re coming off the ‘Contender Series,’ and so you know very much you need to perform. … So there is pressure on me, but there’s always pressure. The key is to harness it the right way on fight night and give them a reason to want to keep you around.”

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