The Sound Martial Arts fighters Jamey-Lyn Horth Wessels and Cole Smith will soon see their first action after the pandemic shutdown.
Horth Wessels will get the opportunity to prove herself as part of Dana White's Contender Series with a bout against Australian Chelsea Hackett in Las Vegas on Oct. 6.
Horth Wessels will be fighting not only for the win, but also a UFC contract when she enters the ring.
"It's the entertainment business. They want exciting fights. They want people to bring some energy. They want the hype. They want the knockouts. They want the good submissions," she said. "For me, I'm going to be doing something that I do normally.
"I have exciting fights and I bring the energy."
In Hackett, Horth Wessels will be a bit of a different challenge, as the Aussie with a Muay Thai background is relatively new to MMA.
"I think it's going to be a great fight. It's a really good style for me to go up against. I've fought a lot of wrestlers and I've fought a few boxing strikers so I'm pretty excited to fight somebody with a little bit of a different history," she said.
Though the series is only a stepping stone toward the UFC, Horth Wessels is eager to make the jump and take her talents to the MMA epicentre of Las Vegas.
"It's a huge step for me. It's very exciting to be fighting in Vegas. The nightlife isn't going to be the same as it always is, but the atmosphere and the location and the idea of it is going to be exciting and amazing," she said.
The last time she was in the ring competitively, Horth Wessels claimed the Battlefield Fight League female 125-lb belt and the mantle of top Canadian when she defeated Jade Masson-Wong in February.
In that moment, she said, the wheels seemed to be turning on jumping to the next level before COVID-19 upended the industry.
"They were thinking I would defend my belt or have another fight lined up before that and the Contender Series wouldn't happen until the later part of the year, where it was originally supposed to happen in May," she said.
Though she kept training for her next challenge, the born-and-raised Squamish resident also saw a shift in perspective during the shutdown.
"It gave me an opportunity to continue to sharpen the tools, but also to try new things," she said. "I got a dirt bike and a mountain bike so I got to enjoy a little bit more of what Squamish has to offer, outside of the mat while still being active.
"It was really nice, in a weird way. A lot of what's going on has been so negative, but for me personally, it put a lot of things in perspective about how I spend my time. I can do things that I want to do and not things that I have to do."
Horth Wessels' brother-in-law Smith, meanwhile, will resume action even earlier, making his third UFC appearance against Arizona's Hunter Azure on Sept. 5.
The bantamweight battle will also take place in Las Vegas, though this will be as part of UFC Fight Night 176.
The contest will be Smith's first fight in nearly a year, as he's coming off his first professional defeat at the hands of Miles Johns at UFC Fight Night 158 at Vancouver's Rogers Arena last Sept. 14.
Smith is eager to resume his career.
"It's my profession, like everyone else's," he said. "It's nice to get back to work. I took a year off and in my job, that's a year without getting paid."
Azure is in a similar position, having also suffered his first pro loss, though more recently — he lost to Brian Kelleher on May 13. Though he doesn't know a ton about his opponent, Smith is feeling confident about his abilities while acknowledging the talent of anyone who's also risen to that level.
"I feel like I match up pretty well with everyone in the division. He's obviously a tough fighter and everyone is in the UFC for a reason," he said. "We'll find out on the night."
Smith said he doesn't feel any rust from his time off and will be ready to go when he steps in against Azure.
"I've been fighting for a long time, so taking a year off really isn't a big deal," he said. "There'll be no ring rust or anything like that.
"With COVID, I think I've gotten in better shape because I've been able to focus a lot on cardio and a lot on drilling and technique. I think I've actually gotten a lot better because of the year off. It's an advantage."
Smith also earned his jiu-jitsu black belt (https://www.squamishchief.com/sports/local-sports/cole-smith-earns-jiu-jitsu-black-belt-1.24173906) during the time off, as he devoted more time to the study of his craft.
"It was a little easier to be a bit more of a nerd," he said. "[I was] watching videos, studying people, watching film and asking questions, being the coach and coaching … instead of just coming in and kicking people's asses and going home."
Smith spends plenty of time in Las Vegas, and he's keen to take part in an event in the UFC Apex, a facility that opened last summer.
"Getting to fight in Vegas is pretty cool. I'm hoping for my fourth one, they'll send me out to Europe or somewhere even cooler."
Smith expressed confidence in the UFC's safety protocols, calling the organization "so professional" and noting that he'll be in the organization's bubble after arriving and that he'll complete his two-week quarantine after returning to Canada.
Earlier this summer, Smith expressed hope that he'd be invited to compete at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He revealed he subsequently received an opportunity to go there for a fight, but the circumstances didn't work out.
"It was a week's notice against a guy who was 12-0," he said. "You have to take into consideration the flights. I would have had to fly to Vegas, then get tested, hang out there for a few hours, then fly to Abu Dhabi.
"Because I'm one of the first fights on the card, I would be fighting at 3 a.m. [Squamish time].
"If I was on the other side of the world, then maybe, but I don't want to be fighting at 3 a.m."
Both Smith and Horth Wessels expressed appreciation for the support of the Squamish community as they chase their dreams and continue their journeys.