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Smiley bringing belts back to the 'Boro
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Nick Smiley is all set to defend his ISKA Southeastern U.S. kickboxing title this Friday. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds of muscle, it’s not entirely clear why anyone would want to take his belt away in the first place.

            Smiley is a native of Brooklet and attended Southeast Bulloch High School. Before he started clashing fists and feet, he was knocking helmets alongside his brother Justin – who is now an offensive guard for the Miami Dolphins in his sixth NFL season – as members of the Yellow Jackets’ football team. Now looking to make a name for himself in the world of mixed martial arts, the pads are off.

            As Smiley strides through the doors of Statesboro Karate, his size is the only thing that sets him apart from he crowd. He jokes around with his wife and friends and watches some kids going through a jiu-jitsu lesson. Smiley is as friendly as can be until he sets foot on the training mats.

            When it’s time to go to work, it’s immediately clear that Smiley means business. During a workout that would leave most on the floor gasping for breath, Smiley chooses to match his partner’s reps during his rest periods and straps on a weighted vest just to make things interesting.

            In a sport where one wrong move can leave you writhing on the ground, there is always a motivation to try a little harder than the next guy.

            “Training is a constant thing,” said Smiley. “It’s usually six days a week and twice per day. I’m up at 5:30 each morning and doing weights and cardio at the gym for about two hours. Then I’ll go home and get a good breakfast, and go to my regular job. In the afternoons, I’ll train for fighting, doing kickboxing or muay-thai or jiu-jitsu depending on the day.”

            While Smiley is set for a kickboxing title fight, his main passion is mixed martial arts. This is what has sculpted him into the fighting machine that can bob and weave as easily as he can pound away at an opponent. To become well-rounded in so many different areas of fighting, Smiley is constantly on the move to one training facility or another.

            “I owe a lot of thanks to a ton of different people,” said Smiley. “There’s Mr. Clay Pearson here at Statesboro Karate, Austin Guarino at Roughnecks MMA up in Canton and Adam and Rory Singer at The Hardcore Gym in Athens are just some of the guys who have helped me. There’s a huge list. All of my sponsors are great too. This is an expensive hobby at the amateur level, so I really depend on them.”

            All of the hard work has paid off, and others have started to take notice. In an MMA career that has been carried out at the amateur level, Smiley is about to sign a contract that will turn his hobby into a profession.

            “November 6 will be my last fight as an amateur,” said Smiley. “Fighting has always been something that I enjoyed. I always said that I would like to go pro if I could make the same money that I do with my job as an iron worker.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Smiley’s fighting career is that he has been able to reinvent himself on a number of occasions.

            Primed from days of schoolyard scuffles, Smiley has always been a fan of fighting. He first started making a habit out of it when he started a career in amateur boxing. He compiled a 30-0 record in the ring before deciding that MMA was a challenge that better suited his tastes.

            Smiley excelled there as well until a torn ACL forced him away from the sport he loves.

Such a major injury in such a violent sport could easily be career ending, but Smiley refused to go out on anything other than his terms.

“The pain of the injury wasn’t as bad as the pain of not being able to get in the ring,” said Smiley. “I’m lucky to have the support that I did to be able to come back so quickly. Everybody made sure that they were pushing me to get better without going at it too hard and reinjuring myself.”

                        So what is left for Smiley to fear?

            Having stared serious injury and a barrage of large, angry men who wanted nothing more than to beat him senseless, what can make Smiley squirm?

            “Collin,” says Smiley of his trainer, Collin Smith. “He really works me. He pushes me hard every day and never lets me quit. I tell him all the time how much I hate him and how I want to beat him up, but we get along great outside of training. I owe an awful lot to Collin for making me into a good fighter.”

            “Nick keeps improving and I’m proud of him,” said Smith. “He always trains hard and he’s doing a good job inside the ring of applying everything that he works on while training. I have every bit of confidence that he’ll be able to go out there tonight and dominate.”

            For everything that Smith has put him through, Smiley is clearly better for it. In his first fight since the injury, Smiley earned his title, mowing down his opponent for an easy win.

            Next up will be his first title defense tonight, where Smiley will take on Marlon Goodman.

            “He’s a big guy like me,” said Smiley. “He goes 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, so he’s a pretty big guy like me. He’s 3-0, but I don’t think he trains as hard as I do. I’ve got my game plan ready. I’m good with my hands, I’m fast, and I’m just going to go in there and try to separate him from consciousness.”


            Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.