Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr., then commander of the Army's III Corps and the top man at Fort Hood in Texas, must have seen an opportunity for the entire Army when he released Staff Sgt. Colton Smith from duty to compete on a reality-television series.
And you can certainly see where Campbell was coming from. An Army Combatives instructor, Smith would be a walking, breathing advertisement for the fine men and women in uniform, a recruiting tool for other young people who might see the Army not just as a chance to serve their country but as a place to pick up some serious martial-arts skills.
Smith, fair or not, represented all of us in the military community. As an active duty soldier, he was there for himself and the nation's Army.
He succeeded as an individual, without a doubt, winning the 16th season of The Ultimate Fighter and a UFC contract.
As a representative of our Army? I can't help but feel he was a giant failure. Read on for five reasons why.
The Army has a Warrior Ethos, a written standard that expresses what a soldier is supposed to be and to represent:
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
There are, of course, other maxims too. Those a soldier learns but that aren't written down in a single pamphlet.
"If you're not cheatin', you're not tryin'."
It works like this: As an enlisted soldier in the Army, you can earn points towards promotion by taking a series of online classes, designed to teach you more about the Army and your job.
Of course, as soon as a test is released, an answer sheet soon follows.
An unscrupulous soldier can score all the answers to each test and win his promotion points while learning absolutely nothing at all.
After all, if you're not cheatin', you're not tryin'.
But that particular Army value shouldn't extend to sport. That's where other values should take hold, values like respect and honor. I guess Staff Sgt. Smith didn't internalize those values quite as deeply.
In his fight to gain entrance into the TUF house, Smith pretended he was going to touch gloves with opponent Jesse Barrett, standard practice in mixed martial arts. Instead, he ducked down and took Barrett to the mat.
"It kind of felt like he cheated a little bit," Barrett said later. "I kind of felt a little disrespected."
Coach Roy Nelson spoke for the world in the immediate aftermath.
"Oh wow," Nelson told the national audience on FX. "What a douche."
If the glove-touch fakeout was the extent of Smith's bad behavior, I'd have no problem with it. Even though it flies in the face of the standards of sportsmanship we've come to expect from professional fighters, it isn't technically against the rules.
After the Barrett fight, Roy Nelson made Smith his fourth pick and immediately admonished him for his behavior.
"When you touch gloves, really touch gloves," Nelson said. "Or don't touch them."
It was Smith's response that was telling. He apologized, telling Nelson he "didn't do it on purpose." The UFC's official TUF recap didn't seem to buy it, and neither did I. Later, a Smith interview seemed to show an unrepentant fighter.
"I'm not a cheap fighter," Smith told the cameras. "But I will say, once the bell rings, when the bell rings you're f*cking in there to fight."
So which was it, Sgt. Smith? Either you didn't do it on purpose, or you did it because when the bell rings, the fight is on. A lie, even a white lie, is unbecoming of a soldier representing our military.
It's one thing to be a poor sport. It's another to have questionable integrity.
There are seven core Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Smith, it seems, doesn't always live them.
Smith's droopy drawers
I've seen it all in the years I've been covering MMA, at least when it comes to apparel. From Shinya Aoki's long grappling pants to Dennis Hallman's cup-tight Speedos, fighter wear runs the gamut from big to small.
But I've never seen someone wear what appeared to be a simple pair of gray boxer-briefs.
I know we don't pay our soldiers nearly enough, but surely Smith can afford a pair of shorts to go over his drawers?
Not a good look.
Some people will vehemently disagree with me on this one. One of those people? The great Chael P. Sonnen, who let his opinion be known on Fuel TV last night.
"You cannot stop in a fight," Sonnen said on the Fuel TV post-fight show. "It is your opponent’s job to try to hurt you. You can’t call timeout. Calling timeout is calling it quits.”
There's no doubt that Sonnen is technically correct. When Smith hit opponent Mike Ricci low, it was absolutely the referee's job to intervene, not Smith's job to let up.
But it's a little deeper than that.
Smith pushed hard immediately after the low blow, giving referee Steve Mazzagatti no chance to jump in. And then, in what feels like his modus operandi, Smith appeared to be about to disengage and give Ricci time to recover.
Instead, he pushed forward again for the takedown—classic misdirection.
It wasn't against the rules. To me, however, it just didn't feel quite right. We hold our soldiers to a higher standard. When you come on television and say, "I represent the military," I expect the very best.
And a better man would have backed off if he knew he had hit his opponent in the jewels.
I don't expect members of the ADD generation to be able to focus for more than a couple of minutes at a time. But when a man is talking to you? You look him in the eye and pay him a modicum of respect.
Rather you should.
Not, apparently, when you are Colton Smith.
When a Harley Davidson representative stepped into the cage to congratulate Smith after the bout—and to give him a free motorcycle—Smith refused to pay him the slightest attention, an incredibly disrespectful showing. Frankly, one I've never seen before.
It got so bad that UFC president Dana White had to jab him in the rib and angrily tell him to "Do this! Do this! Pay attention."
It's a little thing, but in life, the little things add up. Combined with his other indiscretions, the face of the Army Smith showed the world wasn't always one we can be proud of.