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Anthony Smith knows shocking the world once will mean having to shock the world twice

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS – Anthony Smith isn’t overly concerned about whatever amount of picograms are still squatting in Jon Jones’ system, nor what the sports book ultimately thinks of his chances. What Saturday night’s challenger is thinking about is about how he can get out of his light heavyweight title fight with the strap wrapped around his waist.

And though Smith admits he doesn’t have a grand plan if and when he does take Jones’ title at UFC 235, he knows one thing is certain. Should he pull off one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, he’ll have to do it again. As a towering figure in MMA and one of the UFC’s biggest draws, Jones has more than enough clout to warrant an automatic rematch.

“That’s what I’ve been saying all along,” Smith told MMA Fighting. “I’m prepared to have to fight him twice, which is totally fine with me. I’m okay with that, and I expect that.”

Yet beyond that? That’s where things get a little existential.

“What really worries me is that I’m going to win the world title, and I’m not going to fill fulfilled,” he said. “That’s the only fear I have. It’s like a dog chasing something then not knowing what to do when he gets it. The sense of, ‘now what? Is that just it? Then what happens?’ I’ve definitely thought about that, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Clearly I don’t look like a man with a plan.”

Smith is the rare challenger who is so down to earth that he can speak of the grand possibilities before him in a humble way, without coming off as arrogant or cocky. In the simplest terms possible, he says that he has grown up as a fighter and as a human being over the last few years, and he believes he’s ready to fulfill his dream of winning a world championship.

If there’s a sentiment out there that Jones is by far the superior fighter, Smith very rationally explains why he begs to differ. As somebody who knows what he’s watching in a fight, he says he hasn’t seen a ton of growth from Jones, and that the gap has closed more than people realize.

“If you really sit down and think about it, how many new skills have you seen Jon use in the last five or six years?” he said. “I don’t think he’s any better now than he was when he fought [Lyoto] Machida [at UFC 140]. I think he was so far ahead of the curve when he came onto the scene, so far ahead of everybody, that he was this mythical creature, and no one could figure out his style.

“But if you really watch him fight and see how things have gone, he’s not any better. But people can’t forget how dominant he was.”

Even in Jones’ last fight with Gustafsson — the rematch at UFC 232 in December, which Jones won via third-round TKO to recapture the vacant 205-pound title — Smith detected some flaws and blemishes.

“People made it seem like Jon walked through Gus, not really,” he said. “Gus didn’t have a lot for him, but it’s not like Jon buzz-sawed through him. He had some problems. He looked kind of tired, and looked a little frazzled. He wasn’t comfortable…he had some love handles around his waist.”

Smith acknowledges that Jones has been a great champion, but he also thinks people have an unevolved opinion about who he is. Because he found himself fighting on the regional scene 5-6 years ago doesn’t mean he isn’t a serious threat to Jones today. In fact, he says people shouldn’t be carried away by early impressions, given that perception in fighting is so fluid and malleable.

“No one can forget the Jon that beat Rampage [Jackson] and beat Rashad [Evans]. That works for him, because it’s always positive.

“But no one will ever give me the opportunity to change how they feel about me. When I was fighting Shogun [Rua], it was ‘he’s going to kill me, he’s going to kick my ass,’ then I beat him and it’s, ‘oh, he’s washed up, he’s done.’ Then Shogun beats a younger guy than me, Tyson Pedro, and no one’s going to give me that credit. That stuff will drive you crazy if you think about it.”