Trauma to Triumph

Airman heals from childhood struggle through MMA

Story & Photos // Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Senior Airman Cedric Smith, 512th Maintenance Squadron, aerospace ground equipment journeyman, punches a bag during circuit training near Dover Air Force Base, Delaware on Aug. 23, 2015.

Senior Airman Cedric Smith, 512th Maintenance Squadron, aerospace ground equipment journeyman, punches a bag during circuit training near Dover Air Force Base, Delaware on Aug. 23, 2015. Smith is currently assigned to Dover Air Force Base and resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia in between reserve duties. Smith spends about two hours a day training inside the gym to prepare for fights.

His first MMA opponent outweighed him by 50 pounds.

Though Cedric Smith was an intimidating figure in the ring, his challenger put him on edge. In the opening round of the match, Smith was nearly ready to quit after being hit hard with a flurry of blows. In desperation, the senior airman landed a kick to his opponent’s face and felt a bone in his foot break. In the middle of the fight, there he was: in pain, trapped by an opponent, and looking for ways to recede.

“I was at a point where I had to truly decide whether or not I wanted to fight,” he said. “I heard my friends and teammates in the crowd yelling, ‘Come on Cedric! Don’t quit! You’re here n­­­ow and this is what you wanted!’”

It was an unbalanced match, but in many ways it was also a reflection of the way Smith had lived his entire life.

Ever since Smith could remember, his family had been fighting for stability. His childhood tribulations fueled his fire to compete inside and outside of the ring.

While growing up, Smith recalled moving from house to house and temporarily living with the occasional friend to have a place to sleep at night. His mother worked several part-time jobs to save enough money to move herself, Smith and his brother into a home of their own.

“We moved around to rough neighborhoods when I was younger, so I had to fight a lot,” Smith said. “You know, the new guy is always picked on. I couldn’t figure out whether it was my anger or if it was the neighborhoods where I grew up that got me into so much trouble. Sometimes, I thought I just had a nose to find trouble.

“Looking back, I would have to say it was mixture of my anger from witnessing my mother being abused and the environment I was put in as a child.”

Mixed martial arts team members and coaches from the Olympus Mixed Martial Arts team, point out the competition and prepare U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith for a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley on Feb. 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia.

Mixed martial arts team members and coaches from the Olympus Mixed Martial Arts team, point out the competition and prepare U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith for a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley on Feb. 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia.

The practical lessons that most fathers taught to their sons, Smith didn’t learn at an early age.  ­­­­

His mother and brother caught the brunt of his father’s habitual violence. Smith avoided a lot of the physical abuse because he was small, but seeing his brother tossed around the house remains with him.

“I remember one day, I was crying really hard for some strange reason,” he said. “My dad was yelling at me and telling me to shut up and that I needed to stop crying. That was the day, my brother told me, that our mother left my dad. That was the day life changed for me, and I wasn’t completely aware of it because I was so young.

“I’d seen my mother physically abused and that did something to me. I knew when I got older I would never let something like that happen.”

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith enters the ring for a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley on Feb. 6, 2015 at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith enters the ring for a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley on Feb. 6, 2015 at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. Smith enters the ring as an undefeated mixed martial arts fighter. Although the lights are bright and the stage is big, Smith believes competing brings him a misunderstood peace.

Today, Smith is a mechanic in the Air Force Reserve. Although he claims to not have the natural mechanical skills that many of his teammates have, he remains motivated to consistently execute each job tasking. Many of his teammates have prior experience with changing tires, oil filters and car knowledge from their adolescent years. Something as simple as changing a tire didn’t come naturally to Smith, but with the help of his unit, he has excelled on the job.

“I’ve never really been around mechanical equipment like this before,” he said. “I’ve never really had to fix a car or break anything down. The thing I love about this job is that we get into the makeup of the car. We get into combustion cycles, changing oils and brakes. I enjoy taking it one step at a time and completing each task. The Air Force has it set so well that you shouldn’t make a mistake, and even if you do, someone is there to double check it for you.”

At Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where he’s currently working on military orders, Smith is a member of a team responsible for the upkeep of vehicles and their parts.

Senior Airman Cedric Smith, 512th Maintenance Squadron, aerospace ground equipment journeyman, reviews a technical order prior to changing a tire on a generator at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware on Aug. 19 2015.

Senior Airman Cedric Smith, 512th Maintenance Squadron, aerospace ground equipment journeyman, reviews a technical order prior to changing a tire on a generator at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware on Aug. 19 2015. Smith is currently assigned to Dover Air Force Base and resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia in between reserve duties. His attention to detail at work is a direct reflection of his winning habit in the mixed martial arts ring.

“I grew up in a city area; it wasn’t like an area where people work on their own vehicles, so I never had to apply that to my normal everyday life,” Smith added. “This job is hard for me, but I know that hard work pays off.”

“Everything I do requires that extreme attention to detail,” Smith said. “I follow my technical orders a lot like my coach in the ring. I do exactly what is required to do, but I do it to the very best of my ability. If you don’t follow the technical order, there’s a chance you can fail at your work assignment. If you don’t follow your coach’s guidance, there’s a chance you could lose in a fight.”

Every weekday, Smith awakes at 5 a.m. for a 5-mile run before morning muster at Dover. Smith’s success in the ring is a reflection of his work ethic. As a technical school student learning to be a mechanic, he was preparing for one of the biggest fights of the year. He won the fight in the third round by technical knockout.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith lifts his arms as the announcer awards him the technical knockout victory against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley at the Hampton Coliseum on February 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith lifts his arms as the announcer awards him the technical knockout victory against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley at the Hampton Coliseum on February 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia. Smith is currently an Air Force technical school student training to be a mechanic. Smith has trained for hours each day after duty to prepare for this fight. Smith remains undefeated in mixed martial arts competitions.

He has always found a way to work out, despite working various jobs.

In Delaware, Smith’s passion for fighting and working out has connected him with the community in a very short time. Within two months, he’s won a grappling fight in New Jersey and found a gym to train with other MMA fighters, boxers and Brazilian Jujitsu fighters. His workouts start before dawn and don’t conclude until around 7 p.m. five days of the week.

Smith remains undefeated in nine MMA fights. According to his first coach, Antwain Britt, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Smith’s ability to outsmart and overpower his opponent makes it hard to beat him.

“Cedric came into my gym in 2013, and I knew from his physical attributes that he had all of the tools to be great,” Britt said. “As an accomplished fighter myself, I know that most fighters his size have power, but they don’t have the gift of being able to break down the opponent and fight. I think his devotion to being successful makes him who he is today.

“He wrestled at Bayside High School and I know that area is rough. A lot of fighters come from that kind of upbringing. He has been able to use it to become a student in another game. If he continues like this, he’ll be one of the elite fighters of our time.”

Sweat pours from the face of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith after winning a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley at the Hampton Coliseum on February 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia.

Sweat pours from the face of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith after winning a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley at the Hampton Coliseum on February 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia. Smith is currently an Air Force technical school student training to be a mechanic. He trained for three hours each day after duty to prepare for this fight. Smith won the fight by technical knockout in the final round.

Smith applied his attention to detail approach in the ring to his job as a mechanic. He broke down every step that confused him during mechanical training. From his first assignment in technical school, he vowed to do his very best, study hard and live with the results from his efforts.

“When you train hard, you win,” Smith said. “When you work hard, you complete the task. It’s just that simple.”

Smith’s next journey will begin in October when he fights his first professional MMA fight in New Jersey. He believes it has taken a lot of hard work, training and life experiences to get him to this point in life. When asked if becoming a professional fighter was his dream, Smith responded, “No, it’s not a dream come true because I have more work to do and much more to accomplish.”

Throughout his life, he has been forced to sink or swim, fight or be defeated by obstacles. He has decided to fight his way through by using the principles learned from his mother and the ring of life. His hope has fueled his desire to win, “Experience is the best teacher,” he said.

“To me, my job and training are directly related,” Smith said. “The Air Force has a plan and my fighting coach has a plan. It’s not just about training, because you have to be able to react when things don’t go as planned. I think the Air Force has taught me to do that at work, but fighting has taught me to do that in life. I believe we all need a little bit of fight in us to be successful.”

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith stops to be photographed after a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley at the Hampton Coliseum on February 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia. Smith is currently an Air Force technical school student training to be a mechanic.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Cedric Smith stops to be photographed after a mixed martial arts fight against U.S. Navy veteran James Hurley at the Hampton Coliseum on February 6, 2015 in Hampton, Virginia. Smith is currently an Air Force technical school student training to be a mechanic. Smith has trained for hours each day after duty to prepare for this fight. He won the fight by technical knockout int the final round.

Comments are closed.