If there were any questions remaining about Anthony Smith’s legitimacy as a top contender in the light heavyweight division, he gave all the answers this past Saturday with a fourth-round submission win against Alexander Gustafsson.
Despite knockouts against former champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans as well as a submission victory versus former title contender Volkan Oezdemir, Smith was still fighting an uphill battle that he deserved to stand across the Octagon from Jon Jones in March.
Heading into his main event fight this past weekend, Smith was once again a decided underdog until he wrapped up a rear naked choke to tap out Gustafsson becoming only the fourth fighter in the past seven years to hand him a loss.
“Who else has done it? If you take Phil Davis out of it because that was a long time ago, who else has done it? Jon [Jones], ‘Rumble’ [Anthony Johnson] and D.C. [Daniel Cormier]. That’s a pretty good group of guys to be mentioned with,” Smith told MMAFighting when speaking about his win. “At this point, I don’t know what else I’d have to do to answer any questions of my legitimacy. Honestly I don’t care. I’m just really happy that I’ve inserted myself among the top two guys in the world or three guys in the world if you keep D.C. in there.
“The only way you’re going to take that away is you’ve got to beat me. There’s no more jockeying for position and trying to get the good fights and figuring out who’s next. That s—t is over. Now if you want my spot, you’ve got to take it. Instead of me chasing people, now they’ve got to come to me.”
It’s hard to argue with Smith’s logic considering Gustafsson was long considered the second best light heavyweight in the world during championship reigns from both Jones and Cormier over the past few years.
Gustafsson pushed Jones to the brink of defeat in their first encounter in 2013 and then came up just short in a split decision against Cormier when they met in 2015.
Smith handing Gustafsson a decisive loss means he is now in the enviable position of serving as the roadblock to the championship, which means all of the contenders in the division have to do something special to deserve a fight against him.
“It’s the same thing with [Luke] Rockhold, you want to talk all that s—t, now you’ve got to do your job. Now you’ve got to earn it,” Smith said. “I don’t owe you s—t. Now you’ve got to come to me and you’ve got to do something to deserve it. That’s a good position to be in.
“Let Thiago [Santos] and Jon fight, we’ll see how that shakes out. Jan [Blachowicz] and f—k head gotta do their thing and then we’ll see. Johnny Walker’s out there, I think he’s gotta prove himself. I think he’s relatively untested. That’s why it’s good that I’m taking myself out for a little bit. I’m going to be down for a while so let’s see where the division shakes out and we’ll go from there.”
Smith had the same approach when speaking about fellow light heavyweight contender Corey Anderson, who called for a fight against him as soon as he finished Gustafsson this past weekend.
“Corey Anderson’s already on Twitter and Instagram talking s—t. Come on dude, what is wrong with you? Do something to earn it,” Smith said. “I’ve fought five times since you fought once. What are we doing here? At this point, it’s really easy. Do something to deserve it, b—ch. I’m sick of these guys talking s—t.
“You didn’t see me out here trash talking people and trying to talk my way into fights. I put my head down and I grinded and I earned it and I took the fights that no one else wanted and I took them when no one else wanted them.”
The good news when it comes to Smith’s next fight is that he’s not rushing into anything because with a broken hand that’s likely going to keep him sidelined for the next four months, the rest of the light heavyweight division can determine the next best contender to face him.
Ultimately, Smith is looking at every opponent as a road map back to another title shot and that will be the determining factor in whoever he faces upon his return.
“I’m fine taking another fight. I’m not going to be the guy to sit back and wait for the title. That’s not my style. But it’s got to be something that’s going to get me to a title,” Smith explained. “I’m going to fight Luke coming off a loss? Get the f—k out of here, not a chance. That’s not going to happen. Am I going to knock out Corey Anderson and they’re going to give me a title shot? No.
“That’s where the road has to lead. I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me but it has to get me to Jon Jones. That’s my only requirement. I don’t think it’s fair to have me fight someone that doesn’t get me to a title shot. So even if I had to fight two more times, as long as those two fights are on the road to Jon Jones, then I’m good with it.”