The Ultimate Fighter reality show has produced many winners that have graced the halls of the UFC for many years. Forrest Griffin, Nate Diaz, Rashad Evans and Court McGee are just a few of the winners that have been back in the Octagon over and over again with winning records and several “of the Night” performances. However, while it’s easy to focus on the show’s victors, some of the guys that didn’t win the show, but made solid appearances, are also phenomenal fighters still making their impact in the world of professional MMA.

Krzysztof Soszynski, Ross Pearson, Michael Johnson and Vinny Magalhaes are examples of guys who didn’t win their respective seasons, but have done a lot more winning than losing since their TUF appearances. Gilbert “Jamal” Smith is poised to join the ranks of former TUF contestants with big futures in MMA.

Smith competed for Jon Jones’ team on season 17 of TUF earlier this year. In the elimination round, he lost by knockout to Luke Barnatt, but the UFC brass brought him back for a chance to redeem himself against teammate Robert “Bubba” McDaniel in the season finale. Unfortunately, after a hard two-and-a-half-round battle, Smith lost to McDaniel by submission, halfway through the third. The one caveat to this is that Smith, prior to that fight, had spent his entire career as his own coach and his own cornerman.

Any fighter worth his salt knows that he needs a head coach to be the “straw that stirs the drink,” but, as a head coach for his own team at Victory MMA in Colorado Springs, Smith had felt that he could do it on his own. He wasn’t too far off.

Smith (top) works for a submission (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

Smith went 5-0 as an amateur, followed by a 5-1 pro run, before entering the show. Of his 10 combined wins, all but two ended in submission. With extensive experience in training military personnel overseas and a solid BJJ background, there was more than enough training, talent and ring time to dominate the local circuits. But once he entered the big stage, he felt something was missing. That’s when he decided to join Marc Montoya and Factory X Muay Thai in Englewood, Colo.

“It’s too hard to be out there and try to do the best you can while coaching yourself, coaching other guys and training yourself and trying to train other people,” admitted Smith. “To take that off yourself and put that on somebody else, it lets you get out there and do what you came to do. Go out there, work the game plan and enjoy the moment.”

Smith couldn’t have been more correct. In his first fight after the TUF finale, he faced Colorado fan-favorite Jason “The Dragon” Lee at Prize Fighting Championship 2 in Denver on July 13. After handling Lee for most of the fight, Smith finished him off by one of his signature submissions in the third round. Smith was very happy and felt that he was starting to replace that missing link with his new coach.

Well, it didn’t take long to get right back on the horse. Later in the summer, Smith was helping one of his teammates, Adam Stroup, train for a Sparta Combat League middleweight title fight when he learned that Stroup needed to pull out of the fight for other obligations. Although it was only a couple weeks out when Smith found out that he would be replacing Stroup, it wasn’t like it was a complete blindsided discovery.

“I’m not really sure it’s short notice,” explained Smith. “I’ve been in training camp since forever. I never stop training. I’ve been helping other people train. I helped out Dylan Andrews from The Ultimate Fighter, training for his fight for three weeks. I feel very prepared, and I’m happy to have this opportunity.”

Smith’s next opponent is much better than his last one. Donnie Liles has been fighting professionally for eight and a half years, compiling a record of 16-6 with 14 of his wins coming by submission and one by knockout. He holds notable wins over UFC’s Seth Baczynski, Bellator’s Jeremy Kimball and old-school vet Pete Spratt on the Strikeforce stage.

Liles is a submission machine, just like Smith, only with a ton more experience. However, Smith isn’t too concerned about the match-up. He knows Liles is dangerous on the ground, but feels well prepared for the bout.

“When it was Donnie Liles matching up to Adam Stroup, it was the classic striker versus grappler type of match-up,” Smith explained. “Not saying that Adam doesn’t have grappling or Donnie doesn’t have striking, but they’re more known as ‘Donnie is a grappler’ and ‘Adam is a striker.’ I think the fight with me is a little bit different because, if we take it to the ground, it’s going to be a hell of a fight, and I believe my striking is just as good as Adam’s.

“I’m a big threat to Donnie in almost every area. I think the match-up plays to my favor for the fact that Donnie Liles was training for the total opposite of me. He was training for a tall, right-handed, white striker. Now, he’s training for a short, black, southpaw wrestler. It’s kind of interesting. I feel really good about it.”

Knowing that they are both submission-heavy brawlers, Smith isn’t really expecting anything specific from Liles.

Smith (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

“I think the fight’s going to go everywhere,” said Smith. “I never go into a fight with some hardcore, concrete game plan. I go in it to fight and to be able to beat the guy everywhere. I just don’t feel like there’s a place that Donnie could beat me at. Not to discount him, because he’s finished a lot of people in a lot of different places. He could catch me with a wild hit. If I’m asleep on the ground, he could definitely choke me out. But, I’m saying, for him to dominate me, I just don’t see that.”

Smith may not have the same amount of time in the cage, but he has been in the UFC, has trained soldiers in Iraq and has cornered other fighters, so his confidence is not completely unfounded. He’s a fighter’s fighter and has plenty of high-level experience to dispose of Liles handily.

And, like most ambitious fighters, Smith has no plans of slowing down. In fact, his plans are to continue accelerating his career forward with some lofty goals.

“I’ve had a few good opportunities that have come about,” Smith revealed. “I’ve got a fight possibly lined up in Denver in November, and I might have another fight lined up in Chicago in October. So, there are a lot of possibilities for me. I want to fight once a month, so let’s just keep this ball going. At the end of the year, I’d like to be 4-0 with four finishes.”

Once a month is ambitious at any level of the sport, but for a guy that trains as much as Smith, it’s not totally out of the question. As long as he stays healthy and keeps grinding out victories, there’s no reason to slow down.

Smith still has his own gym at Victory MMA in Colorado Springs, his fight camp at Factory X in the Denver area, his BJJ coach in Castle Rock and all of his other obligations spread out across Colorado’s Front Range. So, how does he do it?

“All I do is train,” explained Smith. “I’m not trying to sound like I’m this hardcore, every-day-in-the-gym dude, but at this point in my life, that’s what I am. I don’t do anything else. I don’t go out. I don’t party. I do have a wife and three kids, so I try to find some time on the weekends to spend with my wife and kids. I try to do family stuff, but even right now that’s kind of sporadic, because I’m so focused on this fight, and I have been for a couple weeks now.

“Right now, today, I already trained two clients this morning, then I went to my boxing coach, then I went over to my physical therapist to work on my traps, then I came home for two hours, had some lunch, and now I’m on the road, headed back up to Denver. After that, I’m going to come back and teach at my school. This is an everyday process for me. Nothing but training, man.”

Gilbert “Jamal” Smith’s life truly speaks for itself, and watching one fight, anyone could hardly doubt that he’s dedicated to his craft. He looks professional, he acts professional , and he fights professional. And, come tomorrow night at SCL: Havoc at the Hellespont at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo., fans and promoters will see why he deserves another shot at the Octagon.

Smith would like to thank his two teams, Factory X, with Marc Montoya and his teammates, and Victory MMA, who have stood behind him from day one; his sponsors, Panino’s Restaurant and A.J. Frasca, and CENergy; his boxing coach, Carlos Ibarra; his BJJ coach, Curtis Hill; his physical therapist at Rocky Mountain Rehabilitation; and most importantly, his wife, Sharon, his kids, Malaizha, Anecia, and Elijah, and all of his other family members. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @JamalSmithMMA

Top Photo: Gilbert “Jamal” Smith (second from right) poses with his team (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)