Colton Smith, UFC lightweight and the only full-time, active-duty U.S. soldier on the promotion’s roster, is bringing in the new year with some of the best training in the world.

Smith is a selected participant of the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which is an Army-sponsored program allowing soldiers to train with elite coaches in an effort to have them compete at the Olympic games. In Smith’s case, as a mixed martial artist, he is utilizing a four-week training camp with current and former Olympians in boxing, wrestling and strength and conditioning.

“The biggest thing that I think I’ve taken from training with the WCAP, the Olympians, is the way they train,” Smith told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “Not only do they train hard, they train smart. The way they break down their training to a scientific approach instead of going and doing 30 rounds in the cage or in the ring or on the mat. There’s a very scientific approach to it. They have sports psychologists right there, the best sports nutritionists, the best strength and conditioning coaches available. The coaching staff is second to none. These guys are masters at their art.”

We know Smith as a UFC fighter and the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 16, but that’s only a slice of his very involved life. First and foremost, Smith’s duty is to his country as an active-duty service member. He’s also a family man and a businessman. And then, of course, he also finds time to compete on the biggest stage in MMA. Yet, having so many duties comes at a price.

“People that know me really well understand that I’m a full-time soldier as well—the only active duty fighter in the UFC,” Smith explained. “So that’s something that I always think about as far as my training and stuff, is that I still have a duty to my country and my soldiers and stuff like that. So, I’ve never really been able to train at the level I’m competing at until now.

“Overall, I’m just going to be a better fighter, a better athlete, more prepared. Obviously my boxing, my striking, is going to go up training with [these] guys. It can’t [not] go up. My wrestling [is getting] tighter. In the evenings, I make sure that I’m encompassing all of it working at the mixed martial arts schools locally in Colorado Springs to make sure I’m not forgetting my sport. Not just focusing on wrestling and boxing, but focusing on mixed martial arts as a whole.”

Smith wouldn’t be able to focus on multiple careers without the support of the military allowing him to attend a WCAP camp. Nor could he do it without an understanding wife.

“It’s extremely tough,” Smith admitted of balancing careers and family. “And I also own a pretty large clothing company as well—Enlisted Nine clothing company. That’s something that’s really hard to juggle. Luckily, I have a wife and a family that understands my passion to be not only an active-duty leader, Airborne Ranger, as well as chase my dreams as a fighter. And one day I will be a champion because of it.”

Smith (R) throws a kick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Smith (R) throws a kick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

At this point, becoming champion might be a ways off, especially when you hear Smith explain that he rarely gets to even train fully for his fights. 2013 was a rough year for the TUF winner in his two Octagon appearances. He followed up his TUF championship win by dropping fights by TKO against Robert Whittaker and submission against Michael Chiesa.

Unless you’re a crowd-pleasing gunslinger, the kind that revels in the glory of a violently entertaining fight with a obtuse smile and a lumpy face, record be damned, then the dreaded chopping block comes calling for you faster than others. For a wrestle-heavy fighter like Smith, three in a row could bring a certain sense of dread to the ringing of a phone call that wasn’t there before.

But it’s not as if Smith isn’t aware. Beneath his forthrightness was an undercurrent of quiet purpose in the words he spoke about his training catching up with his performances.

“I don’t see how I won’t go in there and be the best Colton Smith per se that’s been in the Octagon,” he said. “I’m so new to this sport, I can only go up from here. I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve lost to guys that I had no business losing to in the past, especially in my last fight. Not taking anything away from my opponent, but one day I’d like to avenge that loss. Obviously, [the UFC] is not going to give me that fight right away. If I win a couple, maybe I’ll get that fight back and be able to showcase where I truly understand where I belong.

“I’m just still young in the sport, and I’m still finding my place, finding my niche. I’m just trying to be a student of the game, be humble, and learn martial arts as I go along.”

A soldier doesn’t dwell in doubt. They’re not built that way. They’re made to march on. In the swirling cold of the picturesque Colorado Springs mountains alongside top athletes, it’s not hard to find an inner zen that comes with the climb upward.

“There’s a place called ‘The Incline,’ and ‘The Incline’ is 3,800 steps on the side of a mountain,” Smith explained. “I think it goes from about 7,000 feet of elevation up to about 9,600 feet of elevation once you get up to the top. And you race to the top. In my case, I had a former Olympic boxer who is also 11-0 and a pro boxer now—seven knockouts, he’s one of the top prospects in boxing right now—Eddie Vasquez.

“So, myself and Eddie Vasquez raced up the mountain. It was 6 a.m. [and] -5 degrees when we did it. So you go the cold air and the altitude, but it’s beautiful. It’s a great workout. One of those mind over matter type things. [You] get out of the gym, break the monotony of being in the gym and training, get out there and build the lactic acid.”

As far as Smith’s next fight, more than a few things will need to be worked out, but a return date somewhere in the first half of this year sounds about right. Even with the likelihood that his next fight could be a must-win, nobody can tell Smith to not quit his day job. It’s exactly what brought him here, and he’s done it all with a busier life, less cage experience and less preparation than most fighters.

“We’re still trying to hash out those details with the Army,” Smith explained of his return to competition. “I still have my full-time Army job. I’m an Airborne Ranger by trade, but right now I teach hand-to-hand Army Combatives at Ft. Hood, Texas. The WCAP, luckily it’s an Army program, so I’m able to go out there when my training command will allow and mission will allow.

“I go to WCAP and be able to do my training camp there. Everything else I need, though, is right there at WCAP. There’s no other one-stop shop in the world like WCAP as far as nutrition, striking, the wrestling, the jiu-jitsu school is right there. You constantly have coaches right there next to you, sports psychologists and all that stuff. There’s no other place in the world like this, so I’m very blessed to have this opportunity.”

When this soldier steps into the eight-sided cage, though, there’s more than just the WCAP program driving him towards greatness.

“I’d like to thank all the fans, first and foremost,” he concluded. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have this profession that us as fighters love so much. I hope next time I step into the cage, I’m a new fighter. [I’m] always being a student of the game, getting better and honing my skills as a fighter, showcasing that a U.S. Soldier can step into the Octagon and compete with the best in the world.”

Colton would like to thank Alienware, Vertx, Tactical Gear, Enlisted 9 Fight Company, Torque, WCAP, US Army and ML Management. Follow Smith on Twitter: @ColtonSmithMMA

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.