In his previous two light heavyweight fights, Anthony Smith proved he can defeat opponents with fast finishes.
On Saturday night, Smith proved he can find himself in deep waters in his new weight class and rally to win. And in doing so, he marked himself on the short list of contenders at 205 pounds.
The former middleweight nicknamed “Lionheart” rallied from a bad second round in his UFC Moncton main event against Volkan Oezdemir and scored a third-round submission win. The time of the stoppage at Avenir Centre in New Brunswick was 4:26.
The opening round was a hard-hitting affair, as both guys wasted little time landing heavy shots. Oezdemir, who had a size advantage, peppered Smith with leg kicks, but Smith found a home with overhands that connected strong.
Oezdemir took control of the fight in the second after the back-and-forth opener. The Switzerland native scored a takedown and quite simply bullied Smith on the mat for much of the round. With both fighters on their knees, but with Oezdemir in better position, he reigned down punches to the head as Smith all but turtled to get out of the way.
But Smith turned things in his favor with a combination of toughness and guile, as he pushed forward and landed heavy hands. Smith feigned a punch, and when Oezdemir bit, Smith dropped him with a trip. Later, Smith dropped his hands, and as Oezdemir shot in, Smith scored a double-leg takedown.
From there it was just a matter of time, as Smith worked for position on the bloodied Oezdemir and worked for the choke. It was deep, and Oezdemir valiantly battled and nearly escaped, but the second effort got the job done as Oesdemir tapped.
Smith, who had knockouts of former UFC light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua, improved to 31-13 in his career. He spent several minutes on the mat after his victory, which he attributed to Oezdemir’s leg kicks.
“He threw those leg kicks, man that dude kicks hard,” Smith said after his 28th career finish. “My leg is pretty banged up right now. ... The first couple rounds are going to be ugly. He’s so damn strong, so explosive, so damn good. I knew I had to be a nuisance, get him tired and get him in the later rounds.”
Oezdemir, who lost to then-light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier in his last bout at UFC 220, dropped to 17-3 with his second straight defeat.