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Anthony Smith poses on the scale during the UFC 277 ceremonial weigh-in at American Airlines Center on July 29, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Welcome Home, Anthony Smith

Battling Back From Injury And Life's Adversity, Anthony Smith Finally Returns To His Home Inside The Octagon Against Johnny Walker At UFC Charlotte

Anthony Smith is back. Yes, back from the ankle injury suffered in his July fight with Magomed Ankalaev; back from the aborted March bout with Jamahal Hill that ended up with Hill taking the vacant light heavyweight title in his bout with Glover Teixeira; and back in Colorado after leaving the Factory X gym in the lead-up to the Ankalaev bout.

But when I say that “Lionheart” is back, I mean back to being Anthony Smith again, something that got lost along the way when his mother, Dixie Jean Tonacchio, passed away in May of 2022.

A week after Smith and his sister buried their mom, he started training camp for a pivotal clash with Russia’s Ankalaev. His longtime coach at Factory X, Marc Montoya, wanted him out of the fight.

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“I'm not used to anyone telling me what to do,” said Smith. “He wanted me to pull out of the Ankalaev fight. And I obviously didn’t want to, but I wasn't necessarily in a place where I should have been fighting.

"So I was not off to a good start in training camp, and I was training and I'd show up, but showing up and being present are different. And I just wasn’t really present anywhere. I was really struggling, and I didn't do well with my mom dying at all. And the wheels had kind of fallen off.”


Anthony Smith Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs Almeida
Anthony Smith Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs Almeida

Montoya, always more than a coach to the fighters in his gym, let Smith know that he didn’t think the fighter was mentally ready for a challenge like this.

“I didn't want to hear it,” Smith said. “And I think his idea was, I’ll just tell him that if he decides to fight, that he didn't want to train me for it because he didn't feel comfortable sending me in there in the mental state that I was in. But the way that I've always been with ultimatums is that even if I want to do the thing that you're trying to get me to do, if you give me an ultimatum, I'll choose the opposite every time.

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"And in your head, you make s**t up to justify it. So in my head it was, ‘Oh, okay, cool. My mom dies and now everyone wants to bail on me.’ That's how it was in my head. Is that how it was? No, I don't think so. But, in my head, the world was against me. And sometimes I think that's how I have to cope with things to get through it. I have to think that the world's out to get me.”

It wasn’t, especially not Montoya, but everyone grieves differently, and this is how Smith grieved – and fought back when he thought the only thing left that was his was being taken away. Whatever way you slice it, it was far from the ideal way to get ready for a fight.

Anthony Smith reacts after defeating Rashad Evans by TKO in the first round in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 225: Whittaker v Romero 2 event at the United Center on June 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Anthony Smith reacts after defeating Rashad Evans by TKO in the first round in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 225: Whittaker v Romero 2 event at the United Center on June 9, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

“I've been a mama's boy my whole life,” said Smith. “My mom was my best friend. She was the matriarch of our family, and there really wasn't much of a family. It was just us for the longest time. And now I got kids and a wife, and my sister got married and she's got kids. So the family grew, but for the majority of my life, it's just me and my mom and my sister. So when I didn't have that, and it happened so fast, there was no real way to prepare for it.”

Despite all the good people he had around him, from family to friends to teammates and coaches, all Smith thought he had was a fight to look forward to, and Montoya didn’t want him to take it.

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“It wasn't that I didn't appreciate everyone, it was that life was heavy,” said Smith. “And Marc saw that. Marc knows me better than anybody in this whole world, and he was very honest with me. He just said, ‘You can't do this.’ But you know how fighters are. ‘I can't do it? Watch me.”

Smith did his best. He trained at various places outside of Colorado, was in shape, was ready to go, but Ankalaev was the better fighter that night, scoring a second-round TKO.

“I lose and then I'm in the back like, ‘S**t, he was right; this was meant to happen.’ I break my leg, and then I got surgery, and then I get a blood clot and I'm out…it was a trip there for a while, man.”

Anthony Smith | Top Finishes
Anthony Smith | Top Finishes

It would be nice to say that suddenly, the bad trip was over. But that’s not reality. What is reality is that after some hard days, weeks and months, things are a lot different for Smith as he approaches Saturday’s co-main event against Johnny Walker. And yes, they’re better.

“I'm going to be really honest with you,” Smith begins in an interview two weeks out from this weekend’s fight. “I'm really good right now. I'm really good. And I don't care what happens in two weeks. That's what I figured out with my therapist and in long conversations with Marc, that it's none of my business what happens in two weeks.

"I can only control today and I can control my effort and I can control my mindset and the things that I'm focused on. But, I put the work in, and at a certain point you have to accept destiny. And whatever happens on the 13th is destiny. I put the work in. I left no stone unturned and I’m mentally and emotionally healthy. I'm physically in a pretty good spot, I'm light and I'm as strong as I've ever been. So I'm good. I'm really good.”

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He's back with Montoya and Factory X, and he’s got a jiu-jitsu match against friendly rival Glover Teixeira set for June, hopefully to be followed by a barbecue with the former champ, but in the meantime, it’s a fight in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Walker, in the one place where nothing else matters than those 15 minutes of combat.

“Once I'm there, it’s the only place I've ever really, truly felt like I belonged,” Smith said. “I fell in love with MMA, and it was less about the fighting; it was more that I finally was somewhere where people just accepted me for who I was. Everybody's the same once you walk in that door. And that's what drew me to the sport initially, that it doesn't matter who you are and what your past is and what your insecurities are and what you have going on at home. Once I walk in the door, it's just me in the gym and or me in that Octagon and I can control it. It's like home.”

Welcome home, Mr. Smith.

UFC Fight Night: Rozenstruik vs Almeida took place live from the Spectrum Center in Charlotte on May 13, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass