Anthony Smith is an angry individual.
Entering that scrap, Smith was on tear through the 205-pound division. With crippling knockouts over former champion Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua, the man known as “Lionheart” emerged as a violent and bloody force to be reckoned with for any top contender. He followed up these performances with a thrilling submission win over former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir, cementing himself a legitimate threat to Jones’ throne.
But after 25 minutes of fighting, Smith is watching Jones retain his title after an uncharacteristically slow fight from both men.
Was it too much too soon? Did the bright lights get to him? Is Jon Jones really that good?
Looking back, a visibly annoyed Smith struggles to find the words to describe his emotions.
“I still can’t [explain it] and that’s the problem,” Smith told Luke Thomas during an appearance on The MMA Hour. “It didn’t feel any different. The media obligations were a little bit crazier, Vegas was pretty wild, there was a lot of fans, I got recognized a lot more. But other than that, it felt normal. The whole camp felt good. I mean, if we’re really going to split hairs, then I think training camp was a little bit too long. But I can’t put my finger on anything. Fight night I felt good, walking to the Octagon I felt good, right before the fight started I felt fine and looked better than I’ve ever been. I was sharp, I was on point. So I don’t know what happened.”
As for what’s next, Smith makes a quick turnaround around against three-time title challenger Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC Stockholm. Recognizing he’s had very little time to decompress from his last loss, Smith brushes off any talk of the physical ramifications.
He doesn’t care about getting his hand raised, he doesn’t care about playing it safe and he doesn’t care about getting another title shot. He just wants to return to the violent path that buzzed through his division and shake the “sh**ty feeling” from his stomach.
“To be honest with you, I don’t give a f**k what happens in the fight,” Smith said. “I want to perform and that’s it. I want to hit him as many times as I possibly can, I want to punch when I can punch, I want to kick when I can kick and if he gets to close I’ll drag him to the f**king ground and if he gets up then I’ll do it again. That’s all I want to do. I want to perform. That’s as far as my mind has gone. After that, we’ll see what happens because it’s not even about Alex, it’s about me. This is about wanting to take a break but I can’t do it with this burning feeling in my stomach.
“I have this feeling where I just need to destroy something. So whatever happens in the interim, it doesn’t matter to me. I just need to get this feeling out of my stomach and it’s driving me crazy and it keeps me up at night. I just don’t give a s**t. It could be Alex, it could have been 10 other guys in the division. There’s no gameplan. Those last two fights, I think I got a little too intricate with the gameplans and I think it made me think too much. I’m an instinctual fighter and I alway have been so I think got away brought me to the dance. I’m a pressure guy that gets in your face and swings hammers. I could be a super clean striker that’s really pretty and ‘OOs’ and ‘AHHs’ everybody. But deep down in my heart, that’s not who I am and I think that, I don’t know, maybe I was trying to be something I’m not [against Jones].”
As for what challenges Gustafsson present, while the Denver native recognizes the towering Swede’s skillset, it matters little to how he envisions their fight playing out.
“There is no gameplan,” Smith said. “It’s just to react and most of the time my instincts are correct. So I just want to do what feels right in the moment and not hold myself back so much and think so much and just f**king fight.”
The two pugilists will finally throw down in the main event of UFC Stockholm this Saturday at the Ericsson Globe.