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Bantamweight fighters Cole Smith, right, and Miles Johns fight during UFC Fight Night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Sept., 14, 2019.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Getting to the UFC or any high-level sport is so hard, you better enjoy it when you get there, says Canadian bantamweight Cole (The Cole Train) Smith.

“I’m very blessed. I couldn’t imagine doing a nine-to-five job,” said Smith. “The fact that I get to train every day and do what I love to do, it’s very cool. I’m very happy that I’m in this position that I’m in.”

It’s not always that easy to smell the roses when you make your living in a cage, however.

“Sometimes when you’re fighting, it’s hard to enjoy the whole experience of it. You’re anxious, you’re nervous, you’re this, you’re that,” said the 31-year-old from Britannia Beach, B.C., just outside of Squamish. “But if you can, just take a breath and enjoy everything and appreciate where you are.

“Pressure is a good thing. Pressure is a privilege. Not too many people get to experience pressure. Just to be in that position, it’s great. It’s fantastic.”

Smith (7-1-0) takes on American Hunter Azure (8-1-0) on Saturday to open a televised UFC card in Las Vegas.

Alistair (The Demolition Man) Overeem, ranked sixth among heavyweight contenders, faces No. 9 Augusto Sakai in the main event at the UFC’s Apex production facility.

Smith won his UFC debut in May 2019 with a unanimous decision over fellow Canadian Mitch Gagnon in Ottawa. He then lost a split decision to Miles (Chapo) Johns last September in Vancouver.

Smith said he was relaxed going into Gagnon fight, happy to have made it into the UFC and looking forward to testing himself. But it was harder controlling his emotions next time out, given he was fighting in his backyard before family and friends.

“People were messaging me constantly,” he said.

His mindset is totally different this time.

“I kind of just took a breath and (said) ‘Just enjoy the ride, man. Just enjoy the trip.”’

He says there will likely be a smile on his face as he walks out to the Octagon on Saturday, although he says the smile will fade once the cage door closes.

While Smith used his grappling skills to control much of his last fight, the judges scored it 28-29, 29-28, 29-28 for Johns.

“I could see it going either way,” Smith said of the decision. “I could see the case for him, I could see the case for me.”

“I haven’t really put much thought into it any more,” he added. “Miles is a great opponent. He was super-tough.”

Tall for a 135-pounder at five foot 11, Smith’s weight cuts are never fun. But he says this one has been easier given he was in good shape going in.

“You get better at it. You learn how to deal with it,” said Smith, who usually walks around between 155 and 161 pounds.

While Smith’s training takes him to various gyms in Vancouver as well as older brother Kasey Smith’s Sound Martial Arts in Squamish, he has gone farther afield.

He has spent some 2 ½ years in total in Thailand, with stints at Team Quest in Chang Mai and the Fairtex Training Center in Pattaya.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” said Smith. “It was just nice to wake up, no responsibilities. Nothing to do but train every day. Jump on your little scooter with your sandals on in the sun. Stop and get a shake on the way for a dollar. It was fantastic, man.”

It was also hardcore when it came to the training.

“They don’t mess around out there. There’s no tired. There’s no sore. There’s no ‘I’m just taking the day off today for whatever reason.’ You better be there every day if you’re a sponsored athlete.”

Smith, who received his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in July, says he played a lot of sports growing up before settling on martial arts.

“I knew at a young age I wanted to be a professional athlete in some regard,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was going to be.”

His brother Kody fought as an amateur, which drew him into the sport. Cole started taking jiu-jitsu lessons, saying “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

These days Smith also trains at Checkmat Vancouver in Richmond, Revolution Martial Arts in Langley, Roll Jiu-Jitsu Academy in North Vancouver and Squamish Barbell.

Azure also split his two UFC fights. He opened with a unanimous decision over Winnipeg’s Brad (Superman) Katona, also in Vancouver last September, before losing by second-round KO to Brian (Boom) Kelleher in May.

“He looks like a great opponent,” said Smith. “He looks super-durable, he looks super-strong, super-tough. He’s got good hands, good wrestling. It’s going to be a tough fight.”

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