Often in life, it takes setbacks to bring clarity, direction and/or purpose to a person’s personal or professional outlooks on the future. While the severity of a necessary setback can vary based on the individual, the response is what really shapes a person and predicts future successes.

Professional mixed martial artist Gilbert “Jamal” Smith suffered a setback around this same time last year.

After making it onto season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, the Colorado-based fighter defeated Eric Wahlin by submission to make it into the house, only to suffer a defeat of his own at the hands of Luke Barnatt. Impressed with Smith’s performance and demeanor on the show, the UFC brass gave him another chance in the season finale, but he was defeated by Robert “Bubba” McDaniel and subsequently released from the promotion.

Smith could have chosen to take the route that some guys take after the show, putting on lackluster performances, getting in trouble with the law and ultimately falling off the radar. However, never one to take the low road, Smith circled his wagons, reviewed his current training regimen and decided to make some changes.

One year ago, Smith was his own head coach. He had various guys that helped him train, but he didn’t have one guy to take over and guide his comprehensive training as a MMA fighter. After the season finale, he made a big change, employing the services of Factory X Muay Thai head coach Marc Montoya. Since making the change, his career has taken a turn for the better, and suddenly fans are seeing the best Gilbert Smith ever.

In July 2013, the fighter known to many of his peers as Jamal came back with a vengeance, earning a third-round submission over notable middleweight Jason Lee. He followed that victory up with a short-notice decision win over then-top-ranked Colorado middleweight Donnie Liles, earning the Sparta Combat League title and quickly proving why he deserves a shot in a big promotion.

A few months of uncertainty went by and Smith wasn’t getting the attention he expected. Then, Maximum Fighting Championship came along and offered him a shot against a highly touted first opponent, Jason South of The Pit Elevated in Utah. South was 10-1 with nine submissions and a knockout under his belt, and his only loss was for the MFC middleweight strap against Sam Alvey. Although Smith and South entered the cage coming off middleweight careers, both were making their welterweight debuts.

In a dominant three-round performance, Smith handed South his second career loss and improved his own record to 8-2. Little did many know, Smith was not at 100 percent for that bout.

“A lot of people didn’t know, but I hurt my knee before that fight,” Smith told The MMA Corner. “I did what I could and I got the win, so I was happy.”

That win was Smith’s first, and apparently last, performance under the MFC banner. After the fight, Smith and MFC had a falling out, but Smith chose not to comment on specifics and had nothing but good things to say about the opportunity the promotion presented him.

“There was some things going on that I really didn’t like, but I want to thank the MFC for giving me a chance,” Smith said, “and I want to thank Titan for giving me a chance now.”

That’s right. The formerly defunct Titan FC is now under new ownership with CEO Jeff Aronson at the helm. The promotion many thought was gone forever has been going through a sort of renaissance. Titan has been picking up a ton of talent, mostly in the form of former UFC guys, and Smith was one of the promotion’s best snags yet.

Smith joins the likes of Jason Brilz, Dave Herman, Walel Watson, Daniel Roberts, Alvin Robinson, Kalib Starnes, Brock Jardine and Pedro Nobre as another UFC addition to the second card under new management at Titan FC 28, which takes place on Friday night. His first opponent is another UFC vet, Brian Foster.

Foster will arguably be Smith’s toughest opponent yet. At 21-6 with notable wins over Matt Brown, Steve Carl, Brock Larson and Nathan Coy, Foster is one of the very few fighters on record having never been to a decision in over 25 professional fights.

Foster is very well-rounded, with nine knockouts and 12 submission wins, and he trains with Finney’s HIT Squad, a descendant of the fight team originally put together by Matt Hughes and Marc Fiore in Granite City, Ill. He is surrounded by top talent, as is Smith, and these guys are certainly in for an all-out war. Smith knows where Foster comes from and is ready for the ensuing battle.

“I’ve seen him fight in the UFC and I’ve seen a few videos,” Smith stated. “I know he’s a sprawl-and-brawl type of fighter. He’s been around. He’s well established and he can do it all.”

Being as well rounded as he is, Smith is never one to really develop a set game plan for any particular fighter. That will be to his advantage going up against an all-around guy like Foster. The former soldier of the U.S. Army knows what he needs to do to adapt and overcome.

“I just need to keep it tight,” explained Smith. “I need to be smart, more explosive and the better athlete.

“I expect this fight to go everywhere. It’s going to go toe-to-toe, against the cage, on the ground, wherever. It’s going to go everywhere.”

When a guy as yolked as Smith talks about being explosive and athletic at 170 pounds, it can be hard to imagine. Even though he’s only 5-foot-9, he always looked like a big, thick 185-pound fighter. One would assume that a 15-pound drop might slow him down, but in his fight with South, it was quite the contrary. Welterweight is definitely where Smith belongs, and his strength could be a lot for Foster to handle.

Once Friday night passes, Smith will be back in a position of uncertainty. The MFC relationship fell through and Titan only has him for this one fight as of now. However, the MFC deal looks more like a blessing in disguise, rather than a setback. And, with the roster Titan is putting together, one can be sure that the UFC brass will be keeping their eyes on this event.

Smith has the same goal as any top fighter—to make it back into the big show. At this point, he will take any fight that will move him one step closer to achieving this goal.

“Obviously, everybody wants to make it to the UFC, so that’s the deal,” Smith admitted. “Past that, I just want to keep fighting and putting on good fights for the fans.”

One setback, only a year ago, has put Smith on a path that includes a three-fight winning streak, tougher and tougher opponents, and a shot with a renewed promotion that has an ever-growing stable of top talent. A victory on Friday night over Foster will be the next step on the road to earning his spot back in the Octagon. A lot of eyes will be on First Council Casino Hotel in Newkirk, Okla., for Titan FC 28, as Smith looks to stand out amongst all of the other fighters as the guy to beat.

Smith would like to thank all of his coaches and training partners at Team Victory, Factory X Muay Thai and Castle Rock B.J.J. He would also like to thank all of his family, friends, supporters and his sponsors, including Essential Protein, Panino’s Restaurant, Hot on Yoga, Fox & Hound Sports Tavern, Kineo Fit, Fit Quest, Rocky Mountain Rehabilitation P.C., Chase Lawyers, Peak Krav Maga, Sports Guy Mike Enterprises, Chirocare Recovery Center and KJME 890. Follow Gilbert on Twitter: @JamalSmithMMA