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WICHITA, Kan. – Louis Smolka probably doesn’t realize this, but Matt Schnell has a bit of history with him.
“We walked past each other in the airport and I got the strangest feeling – I was like, ‘I’m going to fight that guy one day,’” Matt Schnell told MMA Junkie. “And I don’t get that feeling often. I think a lot of people see flyweights, like, ‘I want to fight that guy.’ But I just knew it was going to come together one day.”
That didn’t come from a place of disrespect; quite on the contrary. Schnell has been watching Smolka for a long time and sees him as a “pioneer of the flyweight division.” And as a guy who took a bit of tumble with a two-fight skid early in his octagon career, he can appreciate Smolka’s own career resurgence after being released from the UFC, making changes and coming back.
Schnell (11-4 MMA, 2-2 UFC), of course, was right about his hunch that he’d meet Smolka (15-5 MMA, 5-5 UFC) in the cage. The two will square off in the preliminary card of Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 4, which streams live on ESPN+ from INTRUST Bank Arena.
What Schnell might not have figured at the time, though, is that the two wouldn’t be meeting in the 125-pound division. Instead, they’re meeting at bantamweight, amid ongoing rumors that the days of male flyweights competing in the UFC might be numbered.
It’s a “strange” situation that Schnell tries not to think about too much. Schnell still considers himself a flyweight, but he can compete at 135 pounds if the opportunity arises – and, considering what happened to some of his peers, he’s ultimately just happy that it did.
“I’m willing to do what needs to be done,” Schnell said. “I want to continue to fight at flyweight, but if I’m being offered fights at bantamweight, how long can I say no? There’s a lot of guys who didn’t get that opportunity, they just got cut. So I’m fortunate and I know that. We’ll see what happens. Winning solves everything, so this Saturday night is big.”
The jury is still out on whether winning will be enough to solve the fate of the UFC’s flyweights, but Schnell hasn’t given up on his division just yet.
Unlike Smolka, who’s coming into the match off a bantamweight bout already, this is Schnell’s first UFC outing in the division and he figured it’d be a bad idea to just start adding mass to his body. If he’s going to grow into a bantamweight, it will be over the course of the next “two to three years,” but hopefully he won’t have to.
“You’ll see me get bigger, if that’s the case,” Schnell said. “But I’m a flyweight. I like the flyweight weight class. I’d like to see it stick around and I’d like to be a part of bringing it back around. When they did ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and we were on the show, I think all of us had the idea of ‘Hey, we’re here to save this division.’
“I was one of those guys who was pushing that narrative and I still feel that I can be a guy that saves this division. We’re going to go out there and get it done this Saturday night. I’m going to fight my heart out, like I always do, and we’ll pick up the pieces and see where they lie from there.”
With back-to-back wins over Marco Beltran and Naoki Inoue, Schnell enters Saturday’s bantamweight match in a much different position than he was in the “loser-leaves-town” meeting with Beltran in 2017.
Still, Schnell is not letting himself get too comfortable.
“It always feels like I’m starting over,” Schnell said. “I always feel like my back is against the wall, and rightfully so, because I didn’t do what I needed to do early on in my UFC career. At fault of my own self, so – back’s against the wall, it’s always a new beginning, winning solves everything.”
To hear Schnell’s full chat with MMA Junkie, check out the video above.
News | MMA Junkie