After his loss to Jon Jones at UFC 235, Anthony Smith felt he’d lost track of who he was as a fighter — and so he returned to being a more reactive competitor for his next fight.
Las Vegas, NV — The most recent challenger to Jon Jones’ light heavyweight crown, Anthony Smith, was in Las Vegas this week, appearing at the World MMA Awards 2019. He’ll be an interested onlooker when Jones returns this weekend at UFC 239 against Thiago Santos, another middleweight who has found success at 205lbs.
Jones vs. Santos is the main event of UFC 239, as Jones vs. Smith was at UFC 235. That’s a quick pace for Jones, but Smith himself got back in the octagon even sooner, defeating Alexander Gustafsson at UFC Stockholm last month.
That win put the 30-year old Smith right back in the title hunt. Speaking to Cageside Press ahead of the award show Wednesday, Smith explained how things have changed between UFC 235, and the Gustafsson win.
“Everything that happened to me was absolutely mental. I’m not 100% sure what it is,” he said. Despite that, adjustments were made. “We made some changes going into the Gustafsson fight that I think made a big difference as far as just being focused on reacting, and not being so handcuffed by a game plan.”
Sticking too close to a game plan, he feels, has got him in trouble before. “I think the Volkan fight and the Jon fight, I had a lot of trouble, because I was just so game plan heavy. I think what got me to the dance was being reactive, and just going in there and letting my lion heart flourish, and just doing what I feel is right.”
“99% of the time, my instincts are right, and I just need to let myself be instinctual,” he added.
Leading up to UFC Stockholm, said Smith, “I didn’t think about anything.” In particular, he avoided focusing on “what ifs?”
“I didn’t sit back and think ‘what if he does this? I’m going to do this.’ I didn’t even think about it.” Instead, his approach was to get in the best shape he could, get his skills as sharp as he could get them, and “go in and fight.” And “swing hammers,” as he put it.
“And it worked,” he observed. “Just reacting.” It’s hard to argue that it didn’t. Smith sent Alexander Gustafsson into retirement with a fourth round submission.
“It did take me a little while to get going, because I had to see some things that I hadn’t seen before, because I wasn’t overthinking it,” Smith admitted. “I wasn’t watching film, I wasn’t watching tape, I wasn’t focusing on individual things that he was going to do, so I just had to react, and I think it worked out.”
There’s an emotional roller coaster that comes with any fight, but the Jones fight in particular was no doubt one of the biggest for Smith. “I just knew how important that fight was, and how important that moment was, and I think I lost track of who I am a little bit leading up to that fight.”
Who is Anthony Smith? A fighter who doesn’t have to fight. “I do this because I love to do it. I don’t have to fight. There’s a lot of other things I could do. I love to fight, it’s who I am, it’s in my DNA.”
That’s what Smith lost sight of. “During the Jon fight, and even the Volkan camp, it became less about loving the fight, and wanting to be a world champion, [and] it become a lot about wanting to beat Jon Jones.”
“I don’t want to say I looked past him,” said Smith, “[but] your brain creeps, thinking about what it will be like when you wake up that Sunday.”
“I lost track of what I really love, and I really love the actual fight. All the media stuff and all the other B.S., it’s fine, it’s cool but I love the actual fight.” Getting back to that was key.
Smith, who now has 25 minutes worth of data first hand on Jon Jones, he later pointed out, certainly took plenty of lessons from the loss. “I was really impressed with how reactive he is to his corner. If his coaches aren’t talking, Jon’s not doing anything,” Smith told us. “He really, really relies on his coaches, and that’s a really cool thing to see, how much he really relies and leans on them. Which means that he’s disciplined. Knowing that changes a lot for me, moving into the next fight when we do it again.”
Smith is currently nursing a surgically repaired hand, which he broke during the Gustafsson fight, so he’ll have some time to sit back and watch the rest of the division. First up, Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos at UFC 239. “Thiago can beat anybody, if he gets a clean shot on an elephant, Thiago puts him down, I’m fairly certain of that.” However, Smith does expect Jones to get the fight to the ground. “I think it’s going to end up on the ground, and I think that’s where Jon has the advantage.”