Life is not so much about the destination, but more about the journey to get there. Nick Smiley has seen it all in his life, the good and the bad. He’s certainly had his own fair share of the ugly, too. Mixed martial arts has been his vessel for changing his life for the better, so when that vessel springs inevitable leaks, things begin to get difficult.

After being through so much in his life already, it’s going to take a lot more than a few leaks to discourage Smiley, who looks at every day as another chance to succeed.

“I kick myself in the ass all the time,” Smiley admitted to The MMA Corner. “If I hadn’t of been so rough on my body to begin with, I probably wouldn’t have nearly as many of the injuries and I wouldn’t be as far behind the eight ball when it comes to overall fitness. I smoked cigarettes forever and a day, you know. I quit smoking over nine years ago, but the damage that did to my lungs, the amount of drugs I’ve done, just the unnecessary wear and tear on my body, it’s starting to show now.

“I’m 31 on Aug. 1, and I feel it every morning I wake up. It’s rough. And I look at some of these guys coming up who are 23, 24, and they’re gonna make it to the UFC. I’m definitely behind the game, but what I may lack in physical attributes I make up for in experience and maturity and mental experience. You’ve gotta have a certain degree of mental fortitude to be competitive in this sport, and I know how far I can push myself mentally, and I know how far I can push myself physically until I’m mentally done. You know, we can push ourselves and our minds will tell us we’re done long before our bodies actually are. And I know, through the times that I’ve had, I can push myself more so than these guys that have had a bit of an easier road.”

On April 26, Smiley suffered his first loss in over four years when he was knocked out by Adrian Henderson at Conflict MMA in the very first round of their fight. After the loss, Smiley found himself venting on social media.

“I wasn’t just angry about losing,” Smiley confessed. “At one point, I had some people who I valued their opinion put in their two cents worth, and one person made the mistake of telling me that I just wasn’t ready for that fight and it irritated me. I was more physically prepared than I’ve ever been in my life for a fight.

“I had one of the best training camps ever, but I just didn’t mentally show up. There were a lot of distractions. You know, I’m not one to blame my failures on anyone else, but the state really let us down. People were in and out of the locker room. I had people back there asking for autographs when I was trying to get my hands wrapped, and Todd Duffee had come up to corner me, and he asked, ‘How are you dealing with this?’ and I was like, ‘I’m not. It sucks.’ It was in my hometown and it was a huge crowd and it was a great event overall, but I never got in my groove, that mental focus that I needed, and it showed in my performance. I made a couple of mistakes and I paid for it. I didn’t show up. It’s not like I got beat up because he was a better fighter; I lost because I made some stupid choices and he capitalized on it.”

Most fighters endure months of hard work to prepare for a fight. Sparring session after sparring session comes and goes, before at least a week of misery during a weight cut. Then finally the night comes for all the hard work to pay off. Smiley, though, well, he feels cheated. The payoff for all that hard work came down to a bout that lasted just under two minutes.

“After that fight, I felt like I didn’t even fight,” Smiley admitted. “I was in and out of there in a minute and 59 seconds, and the only thing that was hurting me was my pride. And I knew I had to get back in there and get the monkey off my back quick. We had to wait for my 60-day suspension for the knockout was up and then the guys at Guardian Sports Group—Charles McCarthy and Ed Kapp—they had something lined up for me immediately, and we’re ready to move on.”

Smiley makes his return to action on July 12 at Pinnacle Fighting Championships’ Pittsburgh Challenge Series 8, where he meets Adam Milstead, who hasn’t fought professionally in over 18 months.

“This fight against Adam Milstead up in Pittsburgh, it’s one of those things, I’ve gotta get back on in the good graces of some of these bigger promotions I’d like to sign with,” Smiley explained. “I’m 5-1 over the last four years, isn’t bad. And if I can get back in there on the winning path, I’ll be 6-1, looking at hopefully getting a Titan deal or something like that. I wanna make a name for myself. I’m still hunting a UFC deal, but I’ve probably put myself back three or four fights. It’s just one of those things—I’ve gotta go back to the drawing board.”

Milstead enters the July 12 bout on the back of four straight victories, with none of his fights entering the third round. Milstead hasn’t tasted defeat since his professional debut in 2011 and gives Smiley the chance to bounce back from his loss with the potential to make a big statement.

“I checked out his record when my manager, Charles McCarthy, called me with the offer, and he seemed a little undersized for a heavyweight,” Smiley said. “I think that maybe he fought at light heavyweight at some point. I did my homework and my research and did my due diligence, of course. I figured he’s probably a bit faster and in pretty good shape. From the looks of it, he likes to stand and trade. He’s somewhat of a striker and probably around the same level that I’m at, so maybe we’ll go out there, stand up and trade some punches to the face a couple of times.”

Mixed martial arts has been a long path for Smiley. Although he may not have been given the same opportunities that younger fighters are given now, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t making the most of what is in front of him. At some points of his life, Smiley was on the brink of some heavy losses. Drugs, alcohol and jail time have all shaped him into the person he is today. Although his mind is firmly set on redemption on July 12, another loss inside the cage isn’t all that bad for Smiley. After all, the fact that he’s even in there in the first place is truly a win well before the opening bell sounds.

Nick would like to thank Charles McCarthy, Ed Kapp and the team at Guardian Sports Group. Follow Smiley on Twitter: @Nick_Smiley