LEE’S SUMMIT — Just over four months removed from a title loss to Demetrious Johnson, former Labette national champion wrestler Tim Elliott is once again set to put his talents on display in the octagon.
Elliott, a Wichita native who now fights out of the Kansas City area is slated to take on Louis Smolka on the UFC on FOX 24 card at the Sprint Center in a flyweight bout.
The two fighters collide into the Easter weekend fight from different ends of the spectrum.
In early December, Elliott’s loss to Johnson — Elliott nearly won the fight in the first round when Johnson got caught in a choke hold, but was able to escape — was a reward for winning the 24th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and propelled Elliott back into MMA’s mainstream spotlight.
As for Smolka, who’s been with the UFC since 2014, the Waipahu, Hawaii native has lost his last two fights, most recently to Ray Borg at UFC 207 on December 30.
The two losses have Smolka on the verge of UFC obscurity, while Elliott is fighting for title contender status in the flyweight class.
“I predict an early first round finish. I know I’ve said that before I usually like to take guys into deep waters…but I feel like this fight it’s important to get an early win.” -- Tim Elliott
“It’s do-or-die for him,” Elliott said. “This is a very important fight for him and for me as well. In the UFC, I haven’t won a fight since before The Ultimate Fighter…so this is do-or-die for both of us and that makes for an exciting matchup.”
The Holy Saturday matchup between Elliot and Smolka, the first fight of the preliminary card, features two of the tallest fighters in the division. Elliott is listed at 5-foot-7 while Smolka is two inches taller at 5-foot-9.
“This is the first time I’ve fought anybody taller than me in the flyweight division,” Elliott said. “I’m used to being the tall guy. So it’s going to be some adjustments. But I train with tall guys all the time. The guy who holds pads for me, (UFC alum) James Krause, is a tall guy. I don’t think it’ll be too big of an issue.”
Both fighters are also notorious for their unpredictable, sporadic approach in the ring. Despite his wrestling background, Elliott’s creative striking techniques have become a staple of his fights. Smolka is known for being crafty off his back.
“I want excitement, I want scrambles,” Elliott said. “With this guy, the thing is to try and slow it down a little bit. He is dangerous from his back, he throws up crazy triangles, he has good elbows from his back. So I’d like to stand as long as I can, then when I get the opportunity for a takedown, just put him up against the cage. He’s least dangerous there.”
For Elliott, this is his first fight back under contract with the UFC after being released from the organization in 2015. His overall professional record stands at 13-7, while his UFC record is just 2-4, including the loss to Johnson.
He went to the Titan FC promotion after being cut from the UFC, where he went 3-0 and was the active 125-pound champion when he joined “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“If I get fired again, no big deal,” Elliott said. “I’ve got a girlfriend who works hard and makes decent money. I’m fine being a stay-at-home dad. I like to cook, I like to clean, I like to change diapers. And I also don’t mind being poor. I’ve been poor my whole life.”
A graduate of Wichita South High School and a KSHSAA state champion in 2005, Elliott found himself at Labette Community College under then-head coach Joe Renfro.
“I struggled getting through high school,” Elliott said. “I wasn’t a bad kid, but I wasn’t the best student. I was a bit of a knucklehead.”
It was at Labette where Elliott started to emerge as one of the best wrestlers in the nation and started to refocus his life — Elliott credits Renfro with that.
“If he would’ve told me walking out into oncoming traffic would’ve helped me win a national title, I wouldn’t have thought twice,” Elliott said, “because I know he knows what it takes. He’s a big reason why (I’m in the UFC). He always taught us that it’s wasn’t a wrestling match, it was a fight.”
Now the head coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Renfro recalls seeing the kid from a poor family in Wichita come out of his shell.
“The fondest memories of him are seeing him mature,” Renfro said. “He overcame adversity in his life just like he does in his fights. It wasn’t easy for him or his family. His dad was working his tail off while Tim was in school.”
In 2007, Elliott was the NJCAA national title at 125 pounds and earned the NJCAA Most Outstanding Wrestler award.
Elliott transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma to finish his wrestling career before making the jump to MMA.
Tim Elliott fights out of Glory MMA & Fitness gym in Lee's Summit, Mo.
His title bout with Johnson is unquestionably the highest profile fight of Elliott’s career — and one he ultimately feels he should have won.
“In the weight cut for that fight, I struggled the whole way through. I was in a pretty severe amount of pain…and that was the first time that ever happened for me in a fight,” Elliott said. “I know that I can compete a lot better than that, so the goal is to beat Smolka, get another win then get that rematch with Demetrius Johnson.”
The brutal weight cut Elliott endured — the 125-pounder says he walks around out of camp at just over 160 pounds, and was at 143 pounds two weeks out from his fight against Smolka — led him to consider moving up to the bantamweight class in his full-time return to the sport’s top promotion.
“The UFC basically told me that if I go up to 135, I have to stay there,” Elliott said. “I was hoping to go up and fight, and then whenever they needed somebody that could compete with Demetrius, I was going to be the guy.
“My coaches also told me that I’m right there, I’m in the spotlight. If I get two more wins, I’ll get that rematch.”
Elliott has adjusted his eating habits during camp to counter changes in the UFC’s weigh-in procedures, which give fighters more time to rehydrate in the day before the fight.
“I’m just now getting back to my normal body, my skin is getting back to normal,” Elliott said. “I’m just now getting back to my normal self, so I’m looking for that to be a factor to be able to compete at 100 percent.”
While Elliott has his crosshairs targeted at a rematch with Johnson, the maturation has allowed the once restless fighter to prioritize his life — the highlight of a recent workout session for Elliott at Glory MMA & Fitness in Lee’s Summit, Missori, led by Invicta FC 145-pound champion Megan Anderson, was Elliott’s daughter stumbling onto the mat to play with her father.
“When my baby was born, I started having fun and not taking it so seriously,” Elliott said. “That’s when I realized I started getting better and that I was having fun again.”
“Watching him come around to being a good young man and now a good father has been incredible,” Renfro added. “He’s a pit bull type person, but to see him in that environment with his daughter, that’s the maturing process he went through.”
Elliott’s fight with Smolka is slated for roughly a 5 p.m. start time and will be broadcast on FOX live from the Sprint Center.
“I look forward to doing things right this time,” Elliott said. “Getting the fight close to my hometown is amazing, and I get to fight a good opponent in Louis Smolka. He’s a guy that comes forward and likes to throw a lot of punches. So I’m super excited about the venue and super excited about the matchup.”