We caught up with @LionheartSmith at the @UFCPI to discuss his preparation for #UFCMoncton, what makes him a force at light heavyweight and more : pic.twitter.com/e3dOsbxnm5
— UFC News (@UFCNews) October 23, 2018
But if we’re playing a game of “can you top that,” how about the fact that Smith has become a fan favorite and one of the most inspiring fighters of the year after shattering the MMA childhood of so many fans by scoring devastating back-to-back knockouts of beloved former champions Rashad Evans and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua?
That’s an even more impressive feat, but it’s not surprising to Nebraska’s “Lionheart.”
“That’s a really easy question to answer,” Smith said. “I think it’s because I’ve been doing it and I’ve been humble in the process. I didn’t trash talk Rashad, I didn’t trash talk Shogun, I was extremely respectful, I shook their hands and bowed my head to them. I accepted that they were going to be the fan favorites.”
When @UFCNews spoke to @lionheartsmith recently, I asked him what his daughters think of his profession. As good as he is as a fighter, it sounds like he's an even better father. #UFCMoncton pic.twitter.com/20ZFck1BmI
— Steve Latrell UFC (@TheUFSteve) October 23, 2018
It’s funny what a little respect and sportsmanship can do, and the way the 30-year-old sees it, there’s no need for trash talk when ultimately you still have to fight.
“When you fight the way that I fight, I don’t have to trash talk anybody because there’s nothing that I’m gonna say that’s gonna be more impactful than what I’m gonna do when I get in there,” he said. “Some guys that do a lot of the trash talking, they have to do that because they can’t draw the attention to the fight with just their style. When people see a fight with me, they have that shock factor, that wow factor because they know no matter who it is, I’m gonna explode on somebody. But I can also be respectful. I don’t need a reason to beat you up and I don’t need a reason to go in there and do what I’m gonna do.”
Heading into 2018, Smith had seemingly put the inconsistency that had plagued him for much of his career out of his life. Three wins (all knockouts) over Elvis Mutapcic, Andrew Sanchez and Hector Lombard put him in a February bout against Brazilian slugger Thiago Santos. As expected, the two had a firefight, with Santos winning the Fight of the Night battle in the second round. The loss prompted a move to 205 pounds for Smith, and in two trips to the Octagon since, he needed just 53 seconds to defeat Evans and 89 seconds to beat Rua.
And while he attacked both superstars like they didn’t belong with him in the Octagon, he admits that he was a little star struck before facing Brazil’s Shogun.
"I think the narrative is going to change it’s not about my opponents I think that people eventually they’re going to have to admit that I might just be that good."
“I didn’t have that so much with Rashad,” Smith said. “He’s on the FOX show and the countdown and the post-fight, so you see a lot of him. But Shogun has this weird aura about him where you don’t see that dude for months and months, it might be years, and then the next thing you know he’s popping up in a fight somewhere. He’s almost like a mythical creature. (Laughs) The only time you see him is in a fight and you get this shock factor, like ‘Wow, he does exist.’ So I kind of had it a little bit when I was in the Octagon waiting for him. One of the reporters said, ‘When Shogun came out, I got the chills.’ And I was like, ‘Me too.’”
But as soon as the Octagon door was locked, Rua was just another opponent, and Smith went after him with the same intensity he throws at every foe. When the July bout was over, everybody wanted to be in the Anthony Smith business, just as he expected.
“We talked last time and I said that after that fight, things were going to go crazy, and it went crazy,” Smith laughs. “But it’s been good. It’s been a rollercoaster – I’ve been really busy, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling – but it’s welcome. These are all things I brought upon myself with success, and not only me, but my coaches and my family were ready for it.”
Does life at the top look the way he pictured it, or is it a different view as he gets ready for things to get even bigger in the coming years?
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s different,” he said. “You don’t know what you don’t know, so I think that’s part of it. When you’re envisioning what it’s gonna look like when you make it or when you have success, you only look at the reward and you don’t really pay attention to the stuff that’s in between. The media stuff and the traveling, those are all things I never really anticipated, but like I said, you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m enjoying this part of it, though. And if I wasn’t doing well in my career, no one would care, so you have to think about it in a positive light, and I embrace it and do the best with it that I can.”
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On Saturday, he closes a career-altering year against former world title challenger Oezdemir. Again, fans are expecting a shootout and Smith is more than willing to give them one. Should he be the last man standing, life will get even crazier for the family man from Nebraska who is penning quite a compelling tale. But his mantra remains unchanged: don’t look back.
“I don’t want to start looking in the rearview mirror right now,” he said. “I gotta get to this title shot and I gotta get through Volkan Oezdemir to do it. I really believe I’m gonna get another devastating finish over Volkan and I don’t think, at that point, it’s about if I get a title shot. I think the question is, who is it against? I think that’s gonna be the bigger story.”
So, in other words, it’s good to be Anthony Smith these days?
“You can definitely say that.”