Our “Fighter Spotlight” feature returns with an in depth interview with Sydney “Sundance” Smith. Sydney talks to us about getting back into MMA full time and how training at the MMA Institute has helped her reach her goals. She also goes in depth about how her faith has helped her overcome life’s obstacles and how she has used the passing of her father as a motivator to keep training and pursue MMA full time.
Sydney is confirmed for the upcoming Spartyka Fight League event on June 23, 2018 but no opponent has yet to be named. You can get more information on the event by visiting www.spartykafightleague.com.
You can keep up to date with Sydney’s training by following her on social media at Facebook.com/sundancemma and on Instagram @sundnacemma.
- You had your first bout in 2014 and have averaged about two fights a year. Is that the pace that you would like to continue to have?
Not at all! I have had a hectic schedule over the last year or so, however, I recently made a career change that is allowing me to train full time. So, you can look to see me be more active this year.
- You last fought in October 2017. Can you tell us when fans can expect to see you back in the cage again?
My hope is to be back in the cage in June.
- Can you tell us about where you grew up and how did it affect your decision to get into mixed marital arts?
I grew up on a horse farm in a village called Middlebrook in Virginia. I was always a rambunctious little kid; I played football with the guys and loved every second. I was always active, outside ripping and running on our farm, riding bikes, building forts, riding horses, etc.
- Where do you train out of and explain how your fight camp has prepared you so far in you MMA career?
I train out of the MMA Institute in good ol’ Charlottesville, VA. I began as an independent, but over the last 3+ years of being at the Institute, I have learned the value of being part of a team, especially one as talented as ours. My camps are rigorous, yet fun, challenging yet rewarding. I learn so much, not just about fighting, but also about myself and about life in general. My coach is unlike any other coach I have ever had in any sport. He knows how to push me to bring out the best Sundance there is.
- How would you explain your fighting style?
Oh, man! Hahaha… that’s a bit of a tough one! I love to stand and bang, but in all honesty, I’m comfortable anywhere the fight might go. We tweak my “style” for each individual fight to best suit our needs to beat that opponent, and I train all of the disciplines.
- What is your athletic background? Did you play all types of sports growing up or did you mainly focus on martial arts?
You know, it’s a little ironic, because I really didn’t do any martial arts when I was younger. I took one karate class when I was about 10 or 12, but I got a creepy-perverted feeling from my instructor, and never went back. I suppose that’s why I didn’t pursue it until I was much older, almost a decade later.
I was always playing some sort of sport, though. I played football for 4 years, I played baseball, softball, basketball, and then for the last 5 years of my academic career I ran cross country and track.
- How did you get the nickname “Sundance”?
Initially, my nickname was ‘Psycho.’ However, after my second fight, I changed it to Sundance, which was my pet name for my dad. I was the only one who called him that. It just stuck and truth be told, it fits like a glove.
- As a female fighter, what is it like seeing the boom in popularity in women’s mixed martial arts? Is it easier to get fights/training partners or are there still growing pains being felt on the regional levels?
I would say that it’s a little bit of column ‘A’, little bit of column ‘B’. I’m the only female fighter in my home gym, so I wouldn’t say that it’s gotten easier to get other female training partners. In regard to finding fights, I think that the quota of quality female fighters in my weight class has gotten marginally deeper. It takes a while for new fighters to gain experience inside of the cage, and at MMAI (MMA Institute), we like to fight up, not down. I don’t believe in feeder fights.
- How important is it now for young fighters to focus on all aspects of MMA rather than just specialize on one particular fighting skill?
In my humble opinion, it is of the utmost importance to be proficient in every discipline, especially if you are young in the sport. Why not go ahead and set yourself up for success?
- Was there an aspect of MMA that you really struggled with when you first started training?
When I first started training, I struggled with the idea that you don’t have to throw power to be fast and accurate! I used to head hunt a lot, but then again, most new people tend to do the same thing.
- Who are some of your biggest inspirations in your life and how did they affect your decision to enter mixed martial arts?
First and foremost, my biggest inspiration in my life is my Lord and Savior. Without my faith and my relationship with God, I would have never been able to survive the things I have been through in my 26 years. I believe that we are called to spread the Gospel, and it is my goal to be an evangelist for His Name through the sport of MMA. He saved my life and so did this sport.
My dad was another huge inspiration to me. His battle with cancer and his fighting spirit was always something that resonated deep within my heart. Even though he passed away before I began my journey as a martial artist, I often look back and think that he would be so proud of how far I have come in my life, as well as where I am going. He is the reason I started training to be a fighter. We were best friends, closer than close, and his death really took a toll on me. I knew that if I didn’t do something constructive, that I would be travelling back down the same old roads that led me straight into trouble in the past. So, I found a trainer and got to work.
- What does it mean for you to be a fighter?
Being a fighter means everything to me. It started out as an outlet to deal with the wide range of emotions I was feeling after my dad’s passing. However, over the years, it has evolved far past that. Fighting isn’t simply what I do; it’s who I am now. Anytime I am not able to be in the gym for any amount of time, I feel incomplete and unfulfilled. I truly believe that this is what I was called to do; this is my purpose in life; to fight and share God with the world.
- What life lessons have can be learned from fighting?
I think the better question would be, “what life lessons DON’T you learn from fighting?”!
Fighting teaches you self-respect, self-discipline, teamwork, community, work ethic; respect of others, humility, confidence, and the list goes on and on and on.
- What can we expect from you in the future?
My goal for this year is to stay as busy as possible, fight as often as I can, get as many jiu-jitsu tournaments and Muay Thai bouts in as I’m able, and then look at going pro sometime next year. Now that I have a steady work schedule, I believe that it is entirely possible to achieve those goals. My previous job of moving furniture was a blessing monetarily, however it wasn’t the most conducive or consistent schedule to enable my career to get to the level where I would like for it to be. So, it was time to make a change, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds!