There are two ways that fighters who don’t reach the finals on The Ultimate Fighter can view the experience: as a miserable waste of time or as a great opportunity.

Count Colorado’s Gilbert Smith in that latter group. Smith, who actually prefers to be called Jamal, fell in the elimination round of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen to Luke Barnatt by knockout—the first stoppage loss of his career.

“It was devastating,” admitted Smith in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I have one loss, but it was a five-round decision loss to someone who had like 14 fights more than I do.

“It took me a week or so to get over it. One of the hardest things about the [TUF] house is that whether you win or lose, there’s no outlet. You go back to the same people and start training again.”

Despite the loss, the Team Jones fighter relished the reality show experience.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” he declared. “It was awesome. I was part of the best Ultimate Fighter in Ultimate Fighter history. I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

Smith (Twitter.com/JamalSmithMMA)

One thing that helped Smith through the six-week long period of being disconnected from the outside world—and his wife and kids in Colorado Springs—was his time in the Army.

“Being in a house with a bunch guys is like being in the barracks,” he explained. “I’ve done that before, so that wasn’t new to me. I think it helped more with the social aspect than the fighting aspect.”

Smith’s lone fight in the house was surrounded with drama, as many of his teammates questioned Jon Jones’ selection to have Smith fight first, and against Team Sonnen’s No. 1 pick nonetheless.

“There was a tremendous amount of controversy,” recalled the 30-year-old of Jones’ fight pick. “It was a big distraction. Going into that fight, I’d never been in a place where I felt like I had no support. I didn’t believe in my coaches, I didn’t believe in my team, and I guess they felt the same way about me. It was a big mental screw job to go through that before a fight.”

Some of Smith’s teammates, namely Robert “Bubba” McDaniel and Josh Samman, were at the root of the problem. They even suggested that Smith would have been a better fit on Team Sonnen than Team Jones.

“Who knows what would’ve happened if I was on Team Sonnen. I could’ve been on Team Sonnen and I could hated Jimmy or whatever,” Smith hypothesized. “I think the people on Team Sonnen had less big egos than the guys that were on my team like Josh and Bubba. I think I could’ve fit in.

“I will say this, if Sonnen had picked me for a fight that those other guys didn’t agree with, they still would’ve supported me.”

From that point forward, the animosity between Smith and McDaniel was evident to anyone that followed the show. Appropriately, the UFC has matched the two middleweights against each other on the main card of the show’s finale on April 13 in Las Vegas.

“After what happened in the house between me and Bubba, a win would make for a perfect fairytale story,” said Smith. “A week ago, I was thinking I would be the first fight on Facebook. I’m excited about it because it’s a huge opportunity. I can go out there and beat a nice, durable guy from a great team on the main card. You couldn’t ask for a bigger stage.

Smith (Twitter.com/JamalSmithMMA)

“I was actually looking forward to being one of the first fights, so I could sit back and watch the other fights!” Smith added with a laugh.

When Smith steps into the Octagon against McDaniel, he’ll be facing a six-inch height disadvantage and an opponent with 20 more fights. As such, Smith traveled north to Factory X Muay Thai to prepare for the fight with UFC veteran Chris Camozzi.

“Camozzi is another tall, lanky 6-foot-3 lefty. He’s the perfect guy to simulate Bubba,” proclaimed Smith. “And he’s had more success in his fights [than Bubba], and I’ve been competitive with him.”

One of the twists of fighting McDaniel is the fact that the two trained together regularly on the reality show. That allowed Smith to get a good gauge of McDaniel’s abilities.

“He’s a tough guy; strong, big and has a lot of experience. He comes from a good team at Jackson’s MMA. He’s an all-around fighter,” acknowledged Smith.

“That said, I don’t think he’s an expert at any one field that I’m not competitive with. After our training together, it gives me a lot of confidence that I can go out there and get the job done.”

While Smith boasts four submission wins in his five professional victories, McDaniel has amassed 15 tapouts in his 20 wins. But that’s not a cause for concern for the Victory MMA product.

“I spent seven weeks with him and he never submitted me, never came close,” Smith revealed. “I won’t say that it can’t happen, but I’m pretty confident being on the ground or on the feet. There was never a time I felt like he got me.”

With a background that includes boxing and wrestling, Smith’s success on the grappling mat is far from luck or coincidence.

“I think the key is that I am a thinking fighter,” he declared. “It allows me to see certain openings and commit to them. Mostly, when I get a guy to the ground, I’m able to apply pressure and smash them. That allows me to create opportunities and get the submission.”

It’s that outlook that Smith plans on using come Saturday night. He’s planning on using just one weapon against McDaniel: pressure.

“Bubba is a tough dude, but if you show him that you’re not scared of him, he’s going to give you openings,” Smith stated. “He will try to find a way out. He will break.”

Jamal would like to thank his team at Victory MMA, Castle Rock Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, his BJJ coach Curtis Hill, his boxing coach Carlos Ibarra, his sponsors Chirocare Recovery Center, Complete Nutrition, Dr. Snyder & Rocky Mountain Rehab Center, Paninos Restaurant, and his employer 24 Hour Fitness. Follow Smith on Twitter: @JamalSmithMMA

Top Photo: Gilbert (Jamal) Smith (The Ultimate Fighter)

  • mani

    Worked hard man good fight…