Anthony Smith spoke to Pundit Arena about the vital life and career lessons he learned from his UFC 235 showdown with Jon Jones and the fight’s aftermath.
Lionheart’s rise through the light-heavyweight ranks since leaving middleweight behind him was a run that saw him reach the divisional peak in ten months.
It was a fast and violent streak that proved both his suitability for the weight-class as well as his continuous growth as a mixed martial artist.
Smith’s original stretch in the UFC started and ended with a first-round kneebar submission loss to Antônio Braga Neto back in 2013.
His shot at the big-time seemingly came and went in the space of one minute and fifty-two seconds. Anthony Smith was cut from the promotion and from there it would have been easy to assume that the first steps into a path of obscurity were to follow.
And yet, after dropping one more loss under the Victory FC banner to his fellow UFC vet Josh Neer, seven straight victories with six finishes (including a rematch against Neer) earned the Texan a second contract with the world’s premier MMA promotion.
A strong but in some ways patchy run as a 185lb-r followed, one that saw Smith post a 4-2 record before biting the bullet and truly starting his ascent as a light-heavyweight.
And it was a road that led him to a brick wall in the form of the seemingly unbeatable champion Jon Jones – who scored a dominant unanimous decision victory over him at UFC 235 in March.
He spoke to us here at Pundit Arena about his somewhat gun-shy approach in there that night and what he has been able to take away from it.
“I learned a lot. If there was one positive I could take from the Jon Jones fight, it’s that I have twenty-five minutes of data on Jon Jones and he didn’t get much on me. I would have changed everything.
“Obviously, I would have pulled the trigger and gone out there and performed and actually given myself a chance. Other than that, I learned a lot about Jon Jones and who he is.
“I’ll take that with me. I think it made me a better person and a better fighter. I was definitely able to tell during the training camp that I took a lot from that.
“I’m a student of the game. There are some things that Jon did to me that I’ll steal and do myself.”
Title-shots are always a special occasion and often a life-changing one.
Fighters grow up dreaming of hoisting a gold strap above their head in a proud moment of validation after years of work behind closed doors.
But taking out a fighter as dominant a force as Jon Jones? That is another thing entirely, something that all-but-guarantees a spot within the annals of the sport’s history.
Immortality. Right there in front of you.
“I was so engulfed and so wrapped up with what I was going to get from the win and winning the title and what life was going to look like afterwards that I didn’t think of the process.
“I think I missed that piece mentally.
“That’s legitimately all I thought about, the performance that I need to turn in. That’s literally just for myself because I am embarrassed about how the Jon Jones fight went. I just gotta shake this embarrassment.”
Now, Smith enters a matchup against a man in a similar situation, Alexander Gustafsson – who spoke to us about his experience fighting Jones in an interview we conducted with him earlier this week.
If history has shown us anything, it’s that Anthony has it in him to take his losses on the chin and rebound a different man because of them.
Whether it was his failed start in the UFC back in 2013 or understanding the need to step up in weight when the time came, it would be a safe bet to assume that he will be able to use his UFC 235 experience and channel it into a stronger performance – one that does his character and his skillset justice.
“My mindset has changed. I’ve taken the pressure off of myself.
“I haven’t thought of the fight in any other terms than just me performing, man, that’s all I want to do.
“I want to just go out there and let it go. I want to leave everything I have in there and that’s it.
“I’m not saying that I’m ok with losing. That’s not it at all. What I’m saying is that I’m not focused on the end result, I’m not focused on the prize. I’m more focused on the journey.
“Before it was about the title, making my family proud, making my team proud, and the hundreds of other people I felt I owed this to.
“This one is really just about how I feel about it. I keep saying it over and over, this one is for me.”
With an opponent of Gustafsson’s experience and quality in front of him in Saturday night’s UFC Stockholm main-event – a hometown hero who has his own point to prove – the question will really will be whether that will be enough.
This is an incredibly underrated fight, folks!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena