B.C. bantamweight Cole Smith confident heading into hometown UFC match

VANCOUVER — He may be a professional fighter preparing for his second UFC bout, but Cole Smith isn’t afraid to show off his care-free side.

As “The Cole Train” dodged and weaved and threw punches at a trainer on stage in Vancouver on Wednesday, the Pokemon theme song blared over head.

“I love Pokemon. I love repping Pokemon. Before all my fights I watch it, I play it, it takes my mind off things,” Smith told reporters after his workout. ”I’m still a kid at heart.”

The music may have been light hearted but the bantamweight from Squamish, B.C., is serious about his match up against American Miles (Chapo) Johns at Rogers Arena on Saturday.

And he knows the hometown crowd is, too.

Hundreds of UFC fans came out Wednesday to watch several of Saturday’s marquee fighters — including headliners Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone and Justin Gaethje — prepare for the televised card.

Loud cheers emanated echoed from the crowd as Smith took the stage.

“It just hyped me right up,” the fighter said. “It’s nice to hear all my fans and friends and family rooting me on. I’m not going to disappoint them on Saturday, that’s for sure.”

Smith (7-0-0) heads into the bout having won his UFC debut in May where he earned a unanimous decision over fellow Canadian Mitch Gagnon in Ottawa.

There were a few takeaways from that victory, Smith said.

“I learned that I can take a punch and I learned that I have to finish chokes if I want to get those bonus cheques,” he said.

The five-foot-11 striking and grappling specialist will be looking to deploy some different skills against Johns (9-0-0) this weekend.

Known as a boxer and wrestler, the 25-year-old Johns will be making his UFC debut. He previously defeated Richie Santiago in June in UFC president Dana White’s Contender Series.

Smith watched his opponent to-be fight live in Vegas and knows he’s about to come up against a tough competitor.

“He’s (9-0) so it’s hard not to be impressed,” he said. ”But these guys are the best in the world so everybody’s good and I’m impressed with everybody.”

Asked how he sees the contest with Johns going, however, Smith was quick to reply.

“Winner chicken dinner right here,” he said.

This bout is just the beginning, Smith said, not only for himself but for fighters across the region.

“Everything is changing,” he said. “You guys are going to see a huge surge in talent coming out of B.C. and the west side of Canada.”

More promoters have been putting on various events lately, leading to more opportunities for athletes across the region and the talent level is consistently high, he explained.

“I feel like the fighters in B.C., we don’t get easy fights. The guys who want it, they have to climb the ranks and fight each other,” Smith said.

Still, there aren’t a lot of Canadians currently competing in UFC. Saturday’s card marks the 31st event on Canadian soil.

Smith sees the relatively small crop of homegrown talent as an opportunity for him to become the country’s No. 1 fighter.

“I’m the next guy in line,” he said. “I know I’m only 1-0, but we’re getting there, we’re climbing the ladder.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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