After competing for a UFC title in early 2019, he picked up an impressive win over Alexander Gustafsson but then suffered back-to-back losses against Glover Teixeira and Alexandar Rakic. Neither of those fights ended particular well for Smith, who was left reeling after the second consecutive loss as he questioned if his future even remained in the light heavyweight division.
Rather than sit and sulk about the losses, Smith booked another fight almost exactly three months to the day after facing Rakic. Some might call that risky considering what a third loss in a row would have done to him, but when Smith gets knocked down, he can’t help but pick himself up again as soon as possible.
“That’s just how I’ve always done it,” Smith told MMA Fighting on Monday. “You see some of these people, they lose and they’re struggling and they go in a hole and just hide out and that’s just not how I’ve ever done it. I’ve always been the guy I’ll just face it head on and if I go in there and I stub my toe and I mess it up, I’ll just get back in there as soon as I can and I’ll do it again until I get it right. Over and over and over.
“Maybe in the past, that’s why I’ve had a couple times where I’ve lost two or three in a row but that’s how I deal with my problems. I’ll just keep running head first into a wall until I make it through it. Maybe that’s not always the best way to do it, but that’s the best way I know how.”
Of course after suffering two lopsided defeats in a row, Smith understood the landslide of criticism that was about to swallow him whole as he sought to get back on track.
The so-called “haters” didn’t bother him all that much but the 32-year-old veteran also heard those same kinds of questions about his future from the people closest to him.
He answered them all with a submission that finished Clark prior to the three-minute mark in the opening round.
“I keep saying this but I hear the whispers,” Smith said. “I hear the ‘where’s he at mentally? Where’s his head at? He hasn’t been the same since the break in. Is he healthy? Is he coming back too soon? Is he physically where he needs to be?’ It’s just nice to come out and just put on a performance that answers all of those questions, not only to myself but the people that support me.
“That’s more important than the doubters or the haters. I don’t really care too much about those people. It’s really about the people who have always really stuck with me. I know that those people had those same questions.”
Now that his competitive year is finished with plans to return for his next fight in 2021, Smith can finally reflect are arguably the most challenging time he’s ever faced during his career.
A home invasion earlier this year was probably the most chilling moment Smith was forced to confront after an intruder broke into his house with his wife and children sleeping a few feet away from the stranger standing in their living room.
That situation was bad enough but then Smith had to endure two losses in a row, which certainly didn’t help matters much.
“It’s been really tough,” Smith said. “I don’t want to pretend that my struggles are any worse than the rest of the world cause the rest of the world is struggling, too but personally it’s been really tough. It’s like one struggle after another. It started kind of with the [Alexander] Gustafsson thing. Had an incredible performance that I was really proud of and I break my hand really bad and I end up having a second surgery and they use my leg to help fix my hand. Like when does that happen? I didn’t even know that was a thing. But it took a lot longer than we thought to get back.
“The pandemic hits and then the stuff at the house and then the fight goes awful. Then I rush right back to try to right the ship and obviously that didn’t go my way.”
On top of all that, Smith also faced plenty of adversity in his preparation for Clark after his family and his coaching staff were ravaged by the coronavirus.
“My family got COVID, three weeks ago I was out of the gym for a week and a half cause my family had COVID,” Smith revealed. “Then my two corners who have been with me since 2008 tested positive on their pre-departure COVID tests so the first time I haven’t had those guys with me since ’08.
“I don’t know. I just try to put my head down and grind forward but it was a really tough year.”
Thankfully he was able to cap things off with a win and now Smith will be able to enjoy the holidays with his family while anxiously awaiting the calendar to turn to the new year.
“It just felt good to get that monkey off my back,” Smith said. “I know a lot of people had a bunch of questions about where I was so instead of just talking about it the whole time, it’s nice to just show everyone I suppose.”