PENNSVILLE, NJ –For one to truly understand what the word “exposure” or “vulnerability” means, you could do a lot worse than talking to a professional prizefighter. Today in the era where social media is king, fighters can not even make it back to the dressing room to towel off their blood and sweat without having their social media accounts bombarded with reactions and comments about their performances good, bad, or indifferent from the media, fans, rival fighters, and random internet-tough guys alike.
For some fighters, picking up the phone and reading what folks are saying about their performances and being under the microscope of public opinion is more nerve-inducing than the actual fight itself. But for New Jersey Middleweight Earl “Trouble” Small, any noise good or bad is simply a part of being in the fight business.
The Enigmatic Earl Small Talks Personality and Public Opinion
Ask ten different people for an opinion on Earl Small and you will likely get ten different answers. Genuine, charismatic, jovial, and a larger-than-life personality cut in the mold of Kevin Holland are all likely responses. Yet on the other side of the coin, you may also hear words like cocky, unprofessional, and arrogant as descriptions of him. We need only look at his last two fights to get a better understanding of why this perception exists.
In his fight against Adam Wamsley at CFFC 94, with 55 seconds remaining in the first round, Small attempted to pull guard on his opponent in the middle of the ring which in turn forced Wamsley to fend off the unexpected takedown attempt. This left Small awkwardly suspended in the air with his arms around Wamsley’s neck. When it became apparent that Wamsley was not going to succumb to the takedown and amidst a lull in the action, Small looked directly at the camera with his tongue out with a playful look on his face much to the amusement of the cage-side commentators C.M. Punk and John Morgan.
Other times reception to Small’s in-cage persona can be interpreted very differently by the same people. An example of this took place in Small’s bout against Miles Lee at CFFC 104. Where in the waning moments of the 2nd round Small found himself on his back with Lee in his guard. When it became clear that Lee was unable to pass the full guard into a more dangerous position and with the men at a stalemate of sorts, Small propped up by his elbow, would use his free hand as a makeshift pillow and smirk in such a way suggesting to the viewers at home “This is boring.” To which, the same commentators would react by labeling him a showman and pointing out that he had been losing the round implying that the timing of such a display was not appropriate given the circumstance.
Small is acutely aware of the mixed reaction to his in-cage mannerisms, but what you see is what you get with him. “Trouble” will be the first to tell you that he has no plans to start changing things up anytime soon. Love him or hate him, one thing is certain, he is going to fight on his terms whether you like it or not.
He explained to MMA Sucka, “Naturally people are going to misunderstand me. No one truly knows me, other than from a few minutes of film and Instagram photos. To fight is to be transparent. It is the ultimate form of [self] expression. What you see is not theatrical. It is just me [and] negative opinions don’t mean much to me.”
Reflecting on the Lee fight
Whether you are a fan or critic of Earl Small, one element cannot be debated and that is his place amongst the ranks of the most promising Middleweight prospects in the country. Standing at a prototypical size of 6’3”, the Jiu Jitsu black belt burst onto the pro circuit in 2017 where he managed to win all of his first four professional bouts by way of submission.
To date, Small’s split decision loss against Miles Lee remains the sole blemish on his official professional mixed martial arts record. But regardless of how the the scorecards were tallied up, Small offers a different take.
“I hardly consider my last fight a loss. I don’t feel like I got beat or I was overwhelmed. In between rounds I was told I was winning the first two rounds. Therefore, I coasted. I made almost no attempts to scramble. To my surprise, I lost a three-round fight giving up one takedown in 15 minutes and taking zero damage. That’s water under the bridge, and I know now to fight bell to bell no matter what.”
The Opportunity of a Co-Main Event
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The outcome of the Miles Lee fight withstanding, Small has since moved on and remains locked in on his upcoming bout, where he will find himself in the co-main event at CFFC 113 against David Gladfelter 3-1. In sizing up his opponent, Small was quick to praise.
“I think Gladfelter is a tough man. A durable and hardworking man.” Small said, “But I’m all that and more. He broke his last opponents. I caught my opponents. Match that with the hard work I’ve done this fight camp, and I’m a problem for anyone!”
What is next for Small? Is a win over a tough opponent in Gladfelter enough to challenge for the CFFC middleweight title? Will Small be the next CFFC Middleweight champion? Will we see him compete on Dana White’s Contender Series after a couple more fights? Time will tell, but we will certainly get a much clearer picture of where Small’s headed in the aftermath of CFFC 113.
Earl “Trouble” Small 4-1 takes on David Gladfelter 3-1 on October 8, 2022, at 6 PM ET in the co-main event of CFFC 113 streaming worldwide on UFC Fight Pass.