MISSOULA — On paper, Hunter Azure’s loss to Brian Kelleher on May 13 on UFC Fight Night was his first as a professional mixed martial artist.
But overall losses in his competitive life in sports? Too many to count.
So now, the former four-time Montana high school state wrestling champion from Poplar must once again channel that ability to bounce back from a loss as he turns his attention to Saturday and getting back on the winning track against Cole Smith on UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Sakai in Las Vegas. The two will fight in a bantamweight bout.
Though that loss was his first in the UFC, Azure has been here before.
“I wrestled my whole career and, man, I’ve had plenty of losses that I’ve had to bounce back from,” Azure told MTN Sports from his hotel room in Las Vegas. “Part of all sports is you lose, you win, it’s just keep that head on right and be prepared.”
The loss put Azure at 8-1 in his pro MMA career and 1-1 in the UFC.
Now more than three months removed from that setback, Azure, 28, is ready to get back in the octagon and use what he’s learned and prepared for over the summer.
“Coming off of a loss, you have to fix some things,” Azure said. “I just had to train a little smarter, look at the drawing boards and knowing that I can’t get caught up in just a striking match or just a wrestling match. It’s a mixed martial arts fight so you just have to be in there prepared for all aspects of the game.
“Mainly just took experience out of that last fight, though, and just be prepared this time.”
Azure enters the match against Smith as the betting favorite, according to Sports Bet Montana. Smith, 31, sports a 7-1 professional record, including 1-1 in the UFC. Smith also enters the fight on a loss.
“I just have to go out there and expect the best Cole Smith and just be prepared,” Azure said. “We all see matchups and look at them as a good thing. I see myself winning in all areas of this fight, but it’s a fight so I’ll be out there Saturday and just going to bring him into my fight. I can’t worry too much about what he does, I just have to go out there and be the best me.”
Azure’s fight with Smith comes almost a year to the day after he made his UFC debut. Looking back, Azure said he’s seen growth in a lot of areas, especially his striking on the feet. But most important, he knows exactly where he belongs.
“Just looking back where I came from and just seeing where I’m at now, it’s crazy,” Azure said. “I’ve always envisioned this. Something in my body and my mind always told me I was going to be here. So in a way, it just felt natural and like I was supposed to be here, and I’m just loving it and enjoying the process.”
And of course, Azure carries his Montana pride with him wherever he goes, and the state has showed its love back.
“Everyone’s been great from the 406,” he said. “I mean, I get a lot of messages and a lot of fans just following me and giving me little messages. It’s awesome. Being in those shoes before and knowing where I wanted to go, it’s just awesome to pave a little path for everyone and show that even coming from a small town, man, you can do whatever you want out there in this life."
Azure and Smith will open the UFC Fight Night event as the first fight of the evening on the prelim card, which is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Mountain Time and will be aired on ESPN+.
“I just have to be a well-rounded fighter,” Azure said. “This game is crazy. One little slip-up can cost you your whole night.”