Fighting during a global pandemic might be a chaotic experience for most athletes on the UFC roster but Anthony Smith found a way to adapt to the unknown a long time ago.
Years before he was a top ranked light heavyweight contender, Smith was competing on the regional fight circuit all cross the Midwest. Unlike many of the promotions today that enjoy broadcast deals with UFC Fight Pass, those days saw organizations usually putting on cards for the sake of ticket sales rather than TV ratings.
At that stage, Smith was really learning on the job with 13 fights already under his belt in less than two years’ time as a professional mixed martial artist. With three fights already on his record for 2010, Smith was definitely staying busy and that’s when he got the call to compete at Max Fights 10 against an opponent named Lucas St. Claire.
There was only one problem. He couldn’t get confirmation that St. Claire had actually signed his bout agreement to make the fight official.
Smith didn’t find out why until he arrived at the fights.
“I’m fighting Lucas St. Claire in Fargo and I think that was Chris Tuchscherer’s show,” Smith explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “That was a big deal back then because Chris’ claim to fame at the time was that he was Brock Lesnar’s main training partner. I’m fighting this dude and I’m not getting any information. Is the contract signed?
“Well it turns out Lucas St. Claire signed the contract to fight me while he was in jail. The fight was on an Indian reservation I believe but he was also Native American and I believe he was in a Native American jail. So he got out the day of the fight.”
While it was a highly bizarre situation to face an opponent just removed from jail, Smith didn’t blink at the opportunity to fight because it was a paycheck and a chance to gain even more experience.
There was no video study or time to dig into a game planning session. Smith just had to fight.
“He gets out [of jail] that morning. I had a hell of a terrible weight cut. I’m thinking I’m going fight this guy getting out of jail and it’s going to be no problem,” Smith said. “I go in there and have one of the toughest fights I’ve had in my entire life.
“This motherf*cker was tough. He was good. I had him deep in a couple of submissions and he just wouldn’t tap. I was like popping his leg in a knee bar. I ended up arm barring him but he never actually tapped. I’ll give it to him. The referee stopped it because it was disgusting looking but he never actually tapped.”
Following the win, Smith ran into St. Claire again but there was no animosity whatsoever despite just fighting each other. Instead, Smith received an invitation from his opponent to hang out later that night.
“After the fight, he ends up being a pretty cool ass dude,” Smith said. “I’m a young kid, I’m down to party. He ends up being like ‘let’s party after this’ and so I said I’m going to go to my hotel room and shower and then we’ll party. I go to my hotel room and he’s already in it!
“By the time I get there, I got all my sh*t together at the venue and it takes a while to get paid, but by the time I get to my room, he’s already inside of the room. I didn’t even tell him what hotel I was at and I didn’t tell him what room I was in. He’s sitting in my room with all the booze and three of his buddies and I’m like what is happening?”
In the end, Smith says partying with St. Claire was even more fun than the fight.
“It was just chaotic,” Smith said with a laugh. “We ended up ordering pizza and we were taking muffins and dipping them in tomato sauce and throwing them out the window like they were grenades. It was terrible. There was pizza sauce everywhere.
“Then people were rough housing and I’m on the second or third floor. It was one of those cheap, rat infested hotels or whatever. They got the window air conditioners in there. Someone bumps it and the whole air conditioner falls out of the window. It falls two or three stories. It was wild. Any time I get, I love to tell the Lucas St. Claire story.”
Smith admits that’s just one wild story out of dozens that decorated the early part of his career, which explains why the insanity surrounding his fight at UFC Jacksonville on Wednesday night hasn’t thrown him off his game at all.
From the extensive COVID-19 testing the fighters are required to undergo to competing in an empty arena without fans in attendance, Smith promises he won’t be rattled by anything.
“These guys are like ‘oh man, we have to fight without crowds.’ That’s it?” Smith said. “That’s the craziest sh*t you’re going to have to deal with? You guys are lucky. You have no idea. I could sit here on the phone for hours telling stories like that.”