The 32-year-old one-time title challenger had gotten more and more opportunities to do TV analyst work for the UFC. As he climbed the light heavyweight ranks, he started hosting his own radio show on Sirius XM and co-hosted a podcast. While thankful for the opportunities, he realized he was spreading himself too thin after losing consecutive fights in early 2020.
“I had too many coals in the fire,” Smith explained in an interview with MMA Fighting. “There’s a lot of guys that do both things and can’t do them at the same time. Like [Daniel Cormier], he doesn’t work when he has a fight coming up. Paul Felder, for the most part, doesn’t take any broadcasting gigs when he has a fight coming up.
“I thought maybe I could do both, but I just couldn’t. It’s too much traveling. It’s too much time away from home. I’m already away from home. I just had to realize I can’t do it all. I can’t handle it all and focus on a fight at the same time. I’ve just got to keep fighting the main thing and the main focus and do what I can outside of that.”
The decision definitely paid dividends. The single-minded purpose led to a first-round submission win. It was a lesson learned for the 50-fight veteran.
Smith said he’ll adopt a similar schedule in the future, and thankfully, all of his employers have been accommodating.
“Sirius XM has been crazy cool about letting me cut my show down to an hour, or completely not doing it on weeks that I’m busy or I’m tired or worn out and just need a break,” Smith said. “Again, as I get a little bit older, I need to spend more time on resting and recovering and just kind of relaxing my mind and taking those breaks instead of trying to do so much.
“I love doing the analyst stuff. I really do. I’ve got two analyst gigs coming up already. I’ll be there middle of December and then another one in February. I just think that I’m going to have to back out of those when I have a fight coming up.”
When it comes to his next UFC appearance, Smith is taking time off for the holidays after a chaotic 2020. But he’s not going to sit on the sidelines for very long.
Directly after his win over Clark this past Saturday night, he was already contemplating his future with a potential fight against Scottish submission specialist Paul Craig on the radar. He also acknowledged another potential opponent after Jim Crute called him out just after he wrapped up the submission against Clark at UFC Vegas 15.
“That was just the one that popped in my head cause my coach had mentioned him,” Smith said of Craig. “My coach likes that matchup, and I think he tweeted that he wanted to fight. I like that fight. Honestly, I’m enjoying fighting people that I enjoy watching, if that makes any sense. I’ve always liked watching Devin fight. I can’t tell you how many times he’s come on and we’ve been watching the fights as a family, and I’ve always said I like watching that guy fight. He’s got a lot of heart. He gets in some real ugly knock down, drag out fights. It was fun to be able to fight that guy.
“I like watching Paul Craig fight as well. I like his jiu-jitsu style. I like how he pushes forward. His interviews are funny. I don’t really know. I like Jimmy Crute, too. He’s always been super respectful. We kind of tweeted back and forth after each one of us has fought. I don’t really care. It’s more about the timing to me than the opponent. I like that kind of February/March timeline. That’s all I’m really focused on.”
With a targeted return in February or March, Smith is turning his attention to another problem that plagued him earlier this year.
Despite earning a light heavyweight title shot in 2019, Smith felt a little undersized in losses to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic. After his setback against Rakic, he mentioned the possibility of returning to middleweight.
Looking back, Smith now knows that was never a smart option.
“One of the best things and worst things about me when it comes to the media and talking to you guys is that I tell you exactly what I’m thinking, when I’m thinking it,” he said. “When I brought up the middleweight thing, that was just a thought in my head at the time.
“But once I got home and actually sat down and thought about it, I realized that was the worst idea I’d ever come up with. So it’s just a thought at the time.”
When it comes to fighting at light heavyweight in the future, Smith plans to make a few changes to his diet and up his strength and conditioning programs to add a little bit more size to his frame. But the weight class will definitely serve as his home moving forward.
“I’d like to put on maybe five or so more pounds of lean mass would be nice,” Smith said. “Just get a little bit bigger, keep getting stronger, but I’m going to stay at light heavyweight.
“Light heavyweight is definitely where I’m going to stay. At this stage and my age, and where I’m at in my career, going down a weight class is definitely not going to be beneficial.”