Anthony Smith beat the odds again and in doing so, may have put an end to the career of one of the light heavyweight division’s longtime standouts.
Heading into the home country of an opponent who has thrice competed for UFC gold, Smith proved that he is a legitimate force at 205 pounds with a fourth-round submission of Sweden’s own Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC Stockholm at Ericsson Globe on Saturday.
The end came when Smith locked in a rear-naked choke that forced Gustafsson to tap out and while he was pleased with his performance, he took no great pleasure in dispatching a respected foe like Gustafsson.
“I know that I was coming into enemy territory, but you guys all week long didn’t make me feel like an enemy,” Smith said post-fight. “I think you guys have seen that me and Alex respect each other, it’s kind of a crappy deal, one of us has to win and of course I want it to be me.
“But there’s part of me that’s sad for him because he’s one of the best light heavyweights on the goddamn planet and it just sucks that we have to meet up.”
A visibly disappointed Gustafsson was also interviewed after the fight and he could be seen taking off his gloves as he appeared to be signaling that he was retiring.
“I just want to thank you all for coming out tonight and supporting all of the fighters here,” Gustafsson said. “Every time the UFC comes back it’s a highlight, every time it’s amazing to be here and to compete in front of you and hear all the cheers.
“And what can I say? The show is over, guys.”
Gustafsson concluded his speech by leaving his gloves in the cage. Should this be the end for the 32-year-old, he retires with an 18-6 professional record.
The fight itself took some time to build up to the dramatic conclusion. In the first two rounds, Gustafsson was content to take the measure of Smith and simply deny “Lionheart” a home-run shot. He probed with leg kicks, while Smith employed greater volume, finding repeated success with left hooks while also mixing in uppercuts and a winging right hand. Gustafsson’s defense held up, but he was continually walked down by the more active Smith.
Both fighters opened up with the striking in round three, though neither managed to string together any major stretches of offense.
It remained a back-and-forth affair until the final minute, when Gustafsson scored a takedown off of a body kick, a sequence that may have won him the round.
Later, Smith explained that a hand injury contributed to the bout beginning to turn in Gustafsson’s favor.
“The first hard punch I landed in the first round was a hard left hook, I broke my hand,” Smith said. “I can feel it clicking around. I just had to figure it out. I tried to throw a couple of hard body shots after that and I could feel it swelling in my glove, so I think a little bit of it was panic.”
Whatever panic Smith was feeling, it disappeared in the fourth as he blocked a takedown and trip attempt from Gustafsson before bullying Gustafsson against the cage and taking his back. Smith stayed heavy, forcing Gustafsson to lose his base. With Gustafsson flattening out, Smith had an opening to land heavy ground-and-pound.
The finish came at the 2:38 mark of round four when Smith switched to the rear-naked choke to end the fight.
“I joke around all the time with my black belt Scott Morton, he’s one of the best jii-jitsu practitioners on the planet,” Smith said when asked about the closing sequence. “I’ve been with him from white belt through black. Finally we’re getting to a spot where we can start showing it.