Ex-UFC fighter Leslie Smith signs with Bellator

Former UFC bantamweight contender Leslie Smith has signed an exclusive deal to compete in Bellator MMA.

Smith, 36, confirmed the signing to ESPN on Tuesday, following an initial report by Yahoo Sports. She does not have a date for her next fight but said she intends to compete in the 145-pound featherweight division.

Smith (10-7-1) hasn't fought since July 2017. She and the UFC parted ways in April 2018, after a bout against Aspen Ladd was canceled when Ladd missed weight.

"It's been a whirlwind, and there were times I got really down," Smith said regarding the layoff. "When you're bummed about circumstances, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I feel I'm just barely starting to peak as an athlete, and I'm really excited this is happening."

Smith had been active in efforts to unionize UFC fighters for years and filed a labor complaint against the UFC following her split from the promotion last year. That complaint was ultimately dismissed by the National Labor Relations Board.

Smith said she has no plans to try to unionize Bellator athletes because the "situations are very different." She cited Bellator's lack of mandatory year-round drug testing and its open sponsor market as major differences between the two promotions.

She also said she does not know what her involvement will be in any unionization efforts, in general, moving forward, but the topic remains important to her.

"I think it's going to be something I care about for a long time," Smith said. "Right now, I'm learning a lot. I'm taking classes at Rutgers University. One thing I'm learning is that it took a long time for other sports to get where they're at right now, as far as protecting their athletes. MMA and UFC is still in its infancy.

"I'm glad I played a part in it, and I hope my situation opened a bunch of eyes. I'm not walking away from that effort, but right now my focus is bringing the best version of myself into the Bellator cage."