By DaShawn Brown - email
STATESBORO, GA (WTOC) - Nick Smiley was never your typical kid.
"I didn't want to be an astronaut or a pilot or anything," he said.
But like his boxing father, and brother, an NFL pro, Smiley had aspirations of becoming a professional athlete.
It's the stage he's chosen that sets him apart. For the past four years, Smiley has been training to become a mixed martial arts pro.
"[I] never got into a fight until I was 17, and then after that, it just kind of snowballed. Actually, my uncle Clayton, one of my best friends ever. He was like if you're going to do this, why not make some money doing it."
Now a part of the fastest growing sport in the world, for Nick, mixed martial arts have become his world.
"It's five days a week, two times a day, minimum," he said. "Sometimes as many as 13 to 14 workouts a week."
Smiley's career as an MMA fighter has drawn mixed reviews. His mother, like most in his family, he says, fears for his safety.
It's his wife, Straten, who's been his strongest supporter.
"It's definitely taxing," she said. "Long hours at the gym and sore bodies, eating all hours of the day, but I love being a part of it."
"It can be perceived as brutal, but its really not. The guys are all friends. There's no malice. Everyone treats it like a sport."
Thus far, Smiley is 9-2 as an amateur fighter, 1-2 on the pro level. It's the preparation, he says, that seemingly never ends.
"It usually starts about two weeks out," he said. "I get really nervous. I start over thinking everything. Can't sleep. [I] wake up, cold sweats, like I'd been exercising in my sleep. Literally I'd wake up clinched up, in the submission move. I'd be dreaming about the fight."
Smiley says his approach in the "cage" is one of a businessman. His role as a fighter is not only his passion, it's his job.
"You have to be able to turn it off and on. Everybody has that switch I think . We're just more in tune with ours."
"Most people just go off my looks and say I'm a mean looking person. I don't think I am at all. I'm a 100% advocate of our sport. If I hear someone talking negative about it, I'll sit down and tell you the facts."
In 1996, then Arizona Senator John McCain labeled the sport a quote brutal spectacle. For Smiley, what he does is no different than football.
"It's a contact sport, except its the purest form of competition."
"He doesn't fight angry or anything like people perceive," said wife Straten. "It's just a job. It's just different than 9-5."
"We're not bad people. We just like to fight."