Anthony Smith has been in 44 pro fights, none more important than the next one. But that’s not how his head coach wants him to look at it.
The deck is stacked against “Lionheart” ahead of the his UFC 235 main event bout opposite light heavyweight champion Jon Jones on Saturday. While Smith is a respected veteran who has shown flashes of being a serious contender since moving up to 205 pounds, Jones is in the midst of a UFC Hall of Fame career and has vanquished every fighter who has stepped into the Octagon with him.
Smith’s head coach, Factory X owner Marc Montoya, spoke to MMA Fighting recently and was asked how Smith needs to approach this fight from a psychological standpoint, given the stakes.
“Very carefully,” Montoya said. “I think that one of the biggest things that Anthony and I have been successful with is in his mental preparation. Since I’ve had the opportunity of training him, we’ve had a great run together. And not just me, but the team and the other coaches. But as a unit, we’ve had a great run. One of the factors has been where we’ve gotten him mentally and of course, we’ve helped him physically a lot, but where we’ve got him mentally. For the Jon Jones fight, I’ve had the ability as a coach to go through world title fights. Not at the UFC level yet, but in Bellator Joe Warren and I won three world titles together.
“I’ve had that experience and I can tell you what I’ve said to Anthony, which is the same thing Joe Warren and I talked about is you have to remove the face and name that’s in front of you and just go run through the body that’s standing there in front of you.”
Ignoring Jones’s pedigree might be difficult given his long list of accomplishments, including a lopsided TKO win over Alexander Gustafsson in his most recent outing. The good news for Smith is that he’s shown he can perform under pressure against more famous names, knocking out Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans in back-to-back fights in a combined two minutes and 22 seconds.
Those two were long removed from their world championship days by the time they fought Smith, but the same couldn’t be said of Smith’s next opponent Volkan Oezdemir. The Swiss fighter had just come off of a failed title bid and he looked to be in the middle of a strong rebound performance when Smith came back and submitted him in the third round.
Montoya expects Smith to bring that same resilience and fearless attitude when he takes on Jones.
“Because if you put all the mystique into Jon Jones and the world title and the UFC and you start doing all this stuff, then you give yourself reasons as to why you’re not going to do it. Because you will allow for that to happen,” Montoya said. “But if you just look at it like this is another fight, this is another weekend, this is just a body in front of me trying to stop me from pursuing my goals and dreams and you take the mystique and all that stuff away, then you get a different athlete, you get a different mental state.
“Anthony’s not afraid of Jon Jones — not that he doesn’t respect him. There’s a difference. He respects him for sure. Jon Jones is one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, so there has to be some respect there, but not so much so that you let the mystique allow you to lose before you ever get in there. You’ve got to get in there and impose your will and decide that it’s just a body in front of you, go get him.”
When Smith fought “Shogun” last July in Hamburg, Germany, it was as a short-notice replacement for Oezdemir. His team scrambled to find time to properly train him, work out the travel, and cut weight, and at one point Montoya took all the papers that he’d been using to plan out their schedule and threw them away. The task seemed impossible.
Eventually, he realized that what mattered was simplifying the process and making sure that Smith’s head was right. The rest took care of itself.
“If you allow Anthony to get mentally strong and pump him up and get his ego right and get him all where he needs to be, you saw what he did in six days against Shogun,” Montoya said. “So he has the ability to go out there and do that and that’s what I love most about him.”