As the wins kept piling up, Anthony Smith ignored the signs that something was very, very wrong with his body in the lead-up to his fights.
With 40 fights under his belt, and age 30 just around the corner, cutting weight was not getting any easier for the 6-foot-4 Smith ahead of his encounter with Thiago Santos in Belem, Brazil in February. Though he’d made the 185-pound limit countless times, scary symptoms were starting to pop up that should have told Smith to move up a division a long time ago.
But he kept getting away with it. Smith was riding a three-fight win streak, all by knockout, before being stopped by “Marreta.” That success convinced him that it was worth continuing to tempt fate.
In reality, Smith was closer to being a hospital patient than a high-level athlete when weigh-in days rolled around. Unlike fighters who “float” a few pounds during sleep and sweat out the rest in the morning, the towering Smith would begin his cut at nine or 10 in the evening and continue cutting throughout the night all the way up until weigh-in time. If there were ceremonial weigh-ins later, Smith would only get a few hours to rest before stepping onto the scale again for the media, then head back to his hotel to try and get as much sleep as possible before fight night.
Smith’s nocturnal routine finally caught up to him in Belem. Beating the lightning-handed (and footed) Santos is no easy task under the best circumstances, and Smith fell victim to the Brazilian’s dazzling array of strikes, eventually succumbing to a body kick in round two.
The silver lining of that loss is that Smith is finally ready to move up to 205 pounds after losing his spot in the contender’s circle at middleweight, and he explained to MMA Fighting why he recently announced the change.
“My vision was starting to blur and my eyes weren’t able to focus and I’m having the burning feeling in my back, like you can feel your organs hurting. I’m just cutting way too hard,” Smith said of his last few weight cuts.
“The last two weight cuts, along with the vision thing, towards the end I’m not able to stand unassisted for very long because I’ll pass out or I’ll fall over, I’ll lose my balance, I just can’t stand at all,” he continued. “The last two my hearing has started to go, it’s the weirdest thing. I’ll be cutting and I’ll just be sitting there and out of nowhere my ears will pop, it will pop one at a time so one will pop and my voice is just so loud in my head and I can’t hear myself talk because I’m echoing in my own head so I can’t speak in more than one sentence at a time because the echo is a little bit delayed. So if I say one sentence, it will be delayed, and if I start to say the second sentence immediately afterwards, I will hear the end of the first sentence as I’m trying to speak the second and I’ll get confused so I just stop saying anything.
“People think that I’m just grumpy and quiet, I’m not quiet, I get confused and I can’t have a conversation because I have two voices in my head.”
Though Smith put up a good effort, he ended up getting hit by several highlight-reel strikes. In round one, Smith said Santos landed a spinning kick to his head that was so fast, it left him “confused” to the point that “if you had told me that (referee) Marc Goddard hit me, I would have believed you because I had no idea where it came from.”
It was a kick to the liver that eventually put Smith down, but he stopped short of making any connection between that debilitating shot and his difficult weight cuts. It wasn’t his ability to take a hit, but the fact that he was getting hit at all that had Smith most concerned.
Even in the fights he’s won, Smith is known for outlasting his opponents, not methodically picking them apart while avoiding damage. This is in stark contrast to his training sessions, in which he claims he rarely gets hit clean. He’s hoping the move up to light heavyweight will lead to a better transfer of his skills from the gym to the cage.
After a lot of consideration and conversations with my family, coaches, management, and the UFC, we have decided to make the move to 205# and continue my journey as a light heavyweight! Our goal is always to build and bring the best product to you, the fans, and while competing at the highest level for a title. At this point I feel I'm doing myself and everyone who supports me a disservice by coming to you all with a subpar product, due partially to my massive weight cuts and the well documented fight with the scale. In times of failure or struggle, most look around to place blame. I will always look in the mirror. Can’t wait for you to see my best performance yet. You deserve it! #Lionheart #UFC #MovingUp
Smith has fought heavier than 185 pounds on a few occasions and when he looks back on those fights, he remembers being “mobile”, “fast”, and “explosive”. Further testing provided by the UFC Performance Institute provided Smith with the information he needed to be secure in knowing that he can transition without making too many adjustments to his body.
“When I left Brazil, I already knew in my head, I’m never f**king doing this again. I’m never coming down to ‘85 again. I can’t do it. I just can’t do it,” Smith said. “I knew that when I was leaving Brazil, but when I went to the PI a couple of weeks later, they were able to give me the hard information. Give me literature that I can read and I can show you that says, ‘Anthony Smith as far as strength, power, athleticism, and speed, is in the top 3-percent of all light heavyweights in the UFC that the PI has tested.’ Already. That’s as a middleweight.
“So I don’t see any reason for me to put on a bunch of weight and muscle because I’m already as strong as these guys. I’m already the same size, I’m already comparable in speed - I’m sure there are guys who are faster, I’m not the fastest guy in the world - I’m right there with those guys.”
One thing Smith wanted to make clear is that he’s not joining the light heavyweight roster just for the sake of being opportunistic. Though the division is frequently criticized for its aging contenders’ list and lack of depth, Smith is just looking forward to big name, big money opponents in the near future.
“I’m not moving to 205 because I think it’s any easier of a weight class. I don’t,” Smith said. “There’s less guys there, the depth isn’t nearly what it is at ‘85 and some of the other weight divisions, but as far as the talent, 205 is just as dangerous as 185 is. And that’s one thing I was worried about. I don’t want people to think that I’m going to 205 because the fights are easier. They’re not any easier at all.
“That said, the depth isn’t where the other weight divisions are so there is more of an opportunity for growth, and for a guy like me, there’s more opportunities to get big fights. So that’s the one thing that I look at as a positive, not so much that the fights are any easier, but there’s more opportunities to get fighters that have a number before their name.”