Career-wise, Harry Smith has had something of a split personality lately. Since leaving the WWE in 2011, Smith has kept up a steady schedule of independent wrestling shows. He has also been training intensely for a future career in mixed martial arts.
Smith showed an interest in MMA well before he signed with the WWE.
“I was first interested in MMA years ago, like 2003,” Smith told SLAM! Wrestling recently. “My partner, Tyson Kidd, was wrestling for New Japan and I’d see not only pro wrestling stuff from New Japan but also MMA. I saw Mirko Cro Cop fight [Kazuyuki] Fujita and a few of Josh Barnett’s fights as well. I noticed that MMA wasn’t just about ground and pound but a lot of high level submissions, techniques and takedowns which is my favourite part.”
He sought out former Stampede Wrestling and All Japan star Johnny Smith [Hindley], now a Calgary police officer. “Tyson Kidd and I learned some stuff from Johnny upstairs in the ring at BJ’s gym. Johnny also showed me some shooting tricks and submissions to showed me some shooting tricks and submissions to handle myself. I quickly picked up on the submissions and wanted to learn more and more. Around 2005, I did various independent shows, one being in Seattle, Washington for Pinnacle Wrestling where I first met Josh Barnett. Josh asked me, ‘So when are you going to get into fighting?’ I kind of chuckled it off and had never really thought of pursuing it at that time. Josh offered to train with him next time I rolled into Seattle a couple months later. Josh opened my eyes to a whole other level of submission wrestling — holds, slams, suplexes, saltos, you name it.”
Even after being signed by the WWE, Smith would continue his interest in MMA. “I continued to train with Josh when I could and would train at what is now Champions Creed MMA in Calgary. It would seem that even though being under contract with WWE, I was growing more interested in Catch Wrestling and MMA.”
Besides training with Josh Barnett, Smith had the chance to work with Catch Wrestling legend, Billy Robinson. “Billy Robinson happened to move back to Little Rock, Arkansas sometime in 2010. I did one seminar with Billy before and participated in another. I caught Billy’s eye and he encouraged me to pursue Catch and MMA. Billy has been an awesome coach. He just has so much knowledge and I can’t wait to keep learning from him. The most important thing Billy has taught me is to ‘learn how to learn.'”
Since leaving the WWE in August of 2011, Smith has continued his training in MMA. “I have focused a lot of training on the striking end since I did not do much when I was in the WWE. The striking has taken hundreds of rounds of sparring and training. It takes a long time to build the proper reflexes for it as well. Dave Batista opened his Gracie Fighter Tampa school in the summer of 2011 as well. This worked out great for me as I decided to stay in Tampa for training and grow as a martial artist along with Dave. Hope he does great for his first professional MMA fight on October 6th. I’ll be at the fight camp as well!”
Smith has had no regrets about parting ways with the WWE. “I can see myself improving in MMA. The desire to better yourself was something that was totally missing from WWE for a long time, especially that last year in WWE. There was no need to try and become better. I just sat on the sidelines and ate catering completely bored out of my mind. I could see where things were going with myself in the WWE and I’m glad I did leave.”
The son of Davey Boy Smith and Diana Hart knows there might come a day when he needs to choose between pro wrestling and MMA.
“It is a very tough decision and certainly one I can’t make overnight,” he admitted. “I believe wrestling has always been my first passion, but once I start my MMA career, it is going to be difficult to do both. I want to stay loyal to wrestling in Japan and to promotions like Resistance Pro. I’d compare a lot of this to Mauro Ranallo, who I believe is an absolutely amazing commentator. He would be awesome in WWE or TNA, yet he has been able to make a great career commentating MMA. Could be the same situation with me as well. All in all, it is a tough decision, but I want to keep training hard, getting better and let passion lead the way.
Wrestling fans don’t need to despair yet. He just finished a five-day run for a revived Stampede Wrestling in Regina, Saskatchewan, and is working often, right across the continent.
On Friday, August 17th, Smith will be wrestling on a very special show in Ottawa against Michael Elgin. The show is the second annual Fighting Back: Wrestling With Cancer in honour of Phrank Morin, a pro wrestler as Stinky the Homeless Guy, who lost his life to cancer. All of the profits go to the Canadian Cancer Society. Promoter Mark Pollesel explained how the show came about. “The day after Phrank was given the terminal diagnosis, I contacted the Canadian Cancer Society to see if they would be supportive of the event,” wrote Pollesel in an email. “I think we all just thought we (myself, The Super Smash Brothers, and others) wanted to do something before Phrank died, that he could attend, in his honour — to show that we were all fighting for him. When I received the CCS’s support, I spoke to Phrank about it, and he was really into it. Phrank deteriorated very quickly after this. His one-year diagnosis turned into less than three months. When it became clear he wasn’t going to be around for the event, we decided that we should do the show regardless — in his memory. A way to remember him, and celebrate his life. He loved wrestling and what better way to pay proper tribute than a big show.
“We all tried for corporate sponsorships and donations — but nobody wanted to step up. So, instead of crying about it, we took to grassroots fundraising. Phrank had touched so many people as a person that his family and friends jumped to support the cause. Furthermore, as a wrestler, Phrank touched many more people — and they all donated and helped the event become a reality.”
The first event was on August 12, 2011, and it raised over $10,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. “We were all blown away” admitted Pollesel. “None of us thought that we could hit that amount. Half of that was our goal. But once we hit that, everybody, wrestlers, friends, and fans all started saying, ‘We can’t wait for next year!”
The show on August 17th, at Tudor Hall in Ottawa, is pretty stacked, with Harry Smith, Bobby Lashley, Jay Lethal, Michael Elgin and more.
Pollesel said that everyone is inspired to better last year’s donation. “People gave generously, and again, without corporate sponsorships, we have managed to raise nearly double the amount to cover the show we did last year. Our hope is to at the very least top our $10,000 gift last year, and we are on track to do just that.”
Fundraising to fight cancer has gone on at Pollesel’s regular C*4 Wrestling events as well, with sales from cupcakes and other ventures, including a fanfest back in June, bringing in another $2,500. “People have really gotten carried away with the momentum of it all, and want this event to succeed,” he said. “My hope is this can be an annual event, with every year seeing a couple of unique headliners appearing. Last year it was Tommy Dreamer and Low-Ki — in a very rare Canadian indy appearance. This year is Bobby Lashley, Harry Smith, and Jay Lethal. I’m already getting ideas for next year.”
Wrestling fans can find out more about the event by visiting, www.fighting-back.ca.