Ahead of UFC 235, we take a look at title-challenger Anthony Smith, who has reached the tallest heights in his career after moving up in weight.
Like it or not, weight-cutting is deeply rooted in mixed martial arts. MMA adopted its weight-cutting from the sport of wrestling, where it is presumed to be very advantageous to be the biggest and strongest in your weight class. Known as the ‘fight before the fight,‘ most UFC fighters cut anywhere from 5-25 pounds, with some fighters even in excess of 30 pounds.
Weight-cutting is the ultimate test of discipline and willpower. Many fighters in the sport consider it very unprofessional to miss weight. In this series, we will shine a light on fighters who cut a massive amount of weight, who have missed weight multiple times in the past, who have made weight-class changes, along with how the weight-cut and weigh-in could affect possible upcoming match-ups. Basically, every aspect of weight-cutting and how it affects the fight game in the UFC.
Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (31-13 MMA, 7-2 UFC)
Anthony Smith is a new face on many fans’ radars but hardcore fans of the sport know that the experienced veteran has been on the mixed martial arts scene for quite sometime. Smith has been in many larger mixed martial arts organizations like Bellator and Strikeforce and has fought names in the sport. This will be Anthony Smith’s 45th professional fight but only one of a handful in the light heavyweight division.
Smith has a very violent fight style, he is very easily hit and will take a punch in order to give one. This fight style shows in his record with only three of his 45 fights ending in a decision. Anthony also has a pretty big frame and stands at 6’4″ with a measured 76″ reach. Anthony Smith’s last loss was to Thiago Santos at the 185-pound weight class, snapping a three-fight win streak. Anthony Smith had won four out of his last five fights in the UFC. Santos finished Lionheart with a body kick and punch in the second round. This fight was just two fights prior to Thiago Santos moving up to the 205-pound weight class himself.
Anthony’s coach, Marc Montoya, detailed the fighter’s cut to 185 and why he decided to make the move to 205, in an interview with Anatomy of a Fighter:
“So he was not enjoying that process. And that’s a tip off to me, as a coach, doing this as long as I’ve done that there might be a time to look at a change here. So I suggested that to him after he fought Andrew Sanchez, and said listen, I feel like you should be at 205. You’d do an amazing job there, you’re big enough to do it, you’re strong enough, all the attributes that you need or have are there. Well it took a few fights to actually convince him to do that. But after we went to the Belem card against Thiago Santos, I mean that cut was terrible. Credit to Thiago he beat us, it’s not about the cut, I’ve said that many times in interviews. But ultimately, that cut was terrible and after that I looked at Anthony and said man we can’t do this anymore. We got to go to 205 and he agreed.”
Marc talked about how a lot of the fighters that he trained have also gone up a weight class. Anthony’s coach prioritizes feeling good during training. The eagerness and hunger to train is important, and not torturing yourself weeks out from the fight helps a fighter’s mental health greatly.
Now in the light heavyweight division, Anthony Smith began his all-out sprint towards challenging for the strap. The first fighter in Smith’s way was the former UFC light heavyweight champion, Rashad Evans. Smith dominated the fight for as long as it lasted and caught the former champion with a knee in the clinch that rendered him unconscious. Rashad had been on a four-fight losing streak before the fight and had not won a bout since beating Chael Sonnen in 2013. So many critics and fans simply wrote off the win as an incredibly washed-up Evans being beaten by a fighter in Lionheart who probably couldn’t even compete with him in his prime. Evans retired after this fight.
— Mike Allardyce (@mikedyce) June 9, 2018
In his next fight, just a month later in July of 2018, Anthony would face another former UFC light heavyweight champion in Mauricio Rua. This was a brutal fight to watch. Smith’s pressure of the former champ was absolutely relentless, just rinsing Rua with an overwhelming onslaught of dynamic striking. Unlike Anthony’s last opponent, Rua was on a three-fight win streak prior to the bout even though he is 37-years-old. Some fans and critics also said that Rua was washed up, but in his next time out he finished Tyson Pedro in the third round. So obviously there is still something in the tank, and Lionheart beat a legitimate opponent at 205.
Viewers beware, a mauling just took place!
Anthony Smith dominates Shogun Rua in one. pic.twitter.com/SDQ2kEQdMj
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) July 22, 2018
After fighting two former UFC light heavyweight champions and finishing them both, Anthony moved on to a bigger challenge in Volkan Oezdemir. Volkan was fresh off of his title shot loss against Daniel Cormier, and was the best available 205-pound fighter at the time. Smith fought an excellent fight, a smart fight. Showing a contrast from his previous two first-round knockouts, Smith picked his shots and fought very tactically. Over the course of the fight, Lionheart was actually heavily out struck by Oezdemir in both total strikes and significant strikes, but he still found a way to get the win. Digging deep, Smith submitted a bloodied Oezdemir in the third round showing off his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
So Anthony Smith’s three fights in the light heavyweight division have been against good opponents but none like the man he will face at UFC 235 in Jon Jones. This is the biggest fight of Anthony’s career by far. Moving up in weight not only opened up a path to the title shot but it also enabled Anthony to be able to take more damage. And with a gritty fighter like Lionheart, who takes a punch to give one, that is a very important attribute to possess.