Anthony Smith was getting ready for the best possible Christmas present to himself with a rematch against Aleksandr Rakic in December, but his injured knee had other ideas.
Fresh off a win over Ryan Spann in September, the one-time light heavyweight title challenger immediately called for a rematch with Rakic after falling to him in their first meeting in 2020.
Rakic was more than happy to accept, and it appeared the fight was going to be scheduled for the final UFC card of the year on Dec. 18. But Smith needed to get a little bit of work done on his knee before returning to action for that rematch.
“I knew that there was something going on with my knee,” Smith explained during his appearance on The MMA Hour. “I didn’t know how bad it was. I’ve been kind of dealing with it for a little while anyways, over probably the last five fights. Like I haven’t been able to run in training camp at all. We’ve had to kind of work my strength and conditioning around my knee. I kind of tweaked it in the fight when I was taking Ryan Spann’s back, but I didn’t want to take the hook out and lose the position. So I just left it in there, I kind of heel-hooked myself essentially and tore my LCL (lateral collateral ligament). It wasn’t a complete tear.
“We did stem cells, we did PRP injections. Thought I was going to be down for eight weeks, not a big deal. But because I already had other knee problems, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to go in, clean out a lot of the cobwebs and cartilage and scar tissue. Just a lot of the problems I’ve been having with it. It wasn’t going to extend my time off anymore because that’s about a month in itself. It’s early enough that it wouldn’t have extended it anymore.”
Smith ultimately underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, which typically doesn’t require more than four to five weeks of recovery. Unfortunately, he ended up suffering from other complications that stemmed from the surgery, which will now keep him sidelined until sometime in 2022.
“Long story short, I end up having a lot more problems after the scope and got staph infection in the joint,” Smith revealed. “Now I’m on IV antibiotics for another month, then I have to go back in.
“It was a disaster. For a routine, regular two or three days down and back on my feet. That was two and a half, three weeks ago that I had the original scope. I think three weeks ago. I just now go off crutches two days ago.”
According to Smith, his physicians still aren’t exactly certain how he got the staph infection in his knee but now the main focus is allowing the antibiotics time to work before he’s allowed to think about fighting again. That’s why he’s not able to give an exact timeline on his return, but he’s confident it should be early next year now that he’s recovering from the surgery and the staph infection.
“I’m not 100 percent sure [when I can return],” he said. “I went from the original injury to the injections then the scope and then now the washout. Now I start rehab tomorrow. Because there’s a lot of atrophy. My left leg is significantly larger than my right leg.
“I’m going to have to battle back from that a little bit. I’d guess February, March, April maybe.”
With Smith sidelined, Rakic is reportedly still looking to compete in December, which means the rematch could be off the table for now. As much as Smith wanted it, it turns out the UFC has already reached out to him with alternative plans.
“I’m kind of liking this Jan Blachowicz fight,” Smith said. “[The UFC] brought it to me that night. He wants to fight again. He wants to fight soon. I’m not crazy injured. I’m just dealing with a little stuff, infections, so I mean as long as we can get this infection cleared up, I don’t think February’s out of the question.
“I love that fight. I like that guy. I want the Rakic fight. I want that back. But I don’t think he wants to wait, which is fine, if he wants to go on and fight someone else, that’s fine as well. I like the Jan Blachowicz fight.”
It appears Blachowicz is wasting no time booking his next fight in order to bounce back, and Smith will happily accept that challenge.
“I’m trying to get to a title and Rakic was my path to the title,” Smith explained. “He’s the next guy after Jiri [Prochazka] but he’s going to have to fight again. I get to avenge that loss and he’s the highest ranked guy coming off of a win. That on top of trying to soothe my own ego was the fight to make. Jan Blachowicz does all of those things and I really like that guy and I think it’s a better matchup.
“It’s no secret, I’ve said over and over, Aleksandr Rakic is the toughest guy in the division for me. That’s the worst possible matchup in the entire division for me. But it’s a winnable fight. I know I can beat that guy. I’ve been in there with him. I’ve felt him. I know what it’s like but it’s the worst matchup in the division for me. Jan Blachowicz is a good dude, he’s not going to run from me, he’s not going to avoid the fight. He’s going to get into the fire.”