Anthony Smith still considers himself a fighter above all else but these days he’s earning a paycheck involving combat sports that doesn’t require him to throw a single punch.
Well, maybe other than a verbal jab or two.
In addition to his career as a top-ranked UFC light heavyweight, Smith has also transitioned into the broadcast side of the sport while co-hosting multiple shows on Sirius XM as well as serving as an analyst for ESPN.
During both of those jobs, Smith is often asked for his opinion on a particular fight or a reaction to a news story happening in mixed martial arts, which can then lead to backlash from some of his peers. Most recently, Smith has found himself exchanging fire with former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor over comments both have made in interviews and over social media.
According to Smith, nothing said is ever meant to be personal and he’s quick to remind his fellow fighters that ultimately he’s only doing his job.
“It’s so weird,” Smith said while appearing on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I’ve seen comments and gotten tagged in stuff where people actually say ‘why is Anthony Smith just up there running his mouth all the time!’ It is the weirdest comment when people say that or I’ll hear things from other gyms where a guy is all pissed off and mad about what I said. He’s like ‘he’s always up there talking sh*t.’
“I don’t know if you guys know this — I get paid a lot of money to just run my mouth and give my opinion. That’s why I’m up there running my mouth all the time. That’s literally my job. I’m paid to answer the questions that people ask me. I don’t know what they expect. I’m not going to bullsh*t you and I’ve always told fighters if you guys have issues with something I say, I’m an open book. If you want to come talk about it, I’ll tell you why I said it and I’ll give you my analysis. Text me. I’ll tell you.”
Smith revealed one particular incident with a fighter that happened just a couple of years ago after he picked against her while offering his predictions for an event.
“Here’s a perfect example: Cynthia Calvillo. I don’t remember who she fought, fought to a draw, though and I ended up picking against her,” Smith explained. “But in my analysis I said, I think Cynthia’s going to dominate here and I think this other girl’s going to dominate here. I don’t know who’s going to be the more dominant out of those two things but that’s my breakdown. This is where she’s going to do great and this is where she’s not.
“The fight happens. It happened exactly the way I said it was going to. Cynthia was dominant where I said she was going to be. The other girl was dominant where I said she was going to be. Then they fought to a draw so other than my pick, I was 100 percent right. So then Cynthia catches me in the lobby afterwards, I want to say it was Tampa, and she was all pissed. She was like ‘you picked against me.’ I was like listen, to be honest with you, everything I said was going to happen, actually did happen. I’m sorry I picked against you. At that point it was so close, I just flipped a coin.’”
When Smith served as an analyst at a separate card where Calvillo was competing, he was once again asked for his breakdown as well as a pick for her fight.
This time around, Smith predicted that Calvillo would walk away victorious and the reaction he got afterwards was much different.
“Recently she just fought, I said a lot of nice things about her cause I still have a lot of belief in Cynthia Calvillo,” Smith said. “I think she’s just kind of had a tough time of it lately. It was cool. She reached out and said ‘thank you for the things you said.’ But at the same time, a couple of years ago, you were super pissed at me. That’s kind of how the fight game goes.
“One second you’re going to piss people off but when they’re on the other side of it, they don’t mind so much. It is a really tough balance.”
To be clear, Smith promises that he’s never gone after anybody with malicious intent when it comes to fight predictions or when offering up his opinion during his radio show.
There have actually been times when Smith is forced to address a rival from his own division but he always does his absolute best to keep everything professional because that is still just his job.
“I don’t ever want fighters to think there’s ever anything personal,” Smith said. “I’ve had beefs with guys that are in my division and I’ve been very honest about my analysis of their games and very complimentary. I’ve worked Jon Jones’ events after we fought and you never heard me say a negative thing about Jon Jones. I keep it very based on their fight game.
“When you’re up there at the desk, you do have a moment where you know that you’re going to say something that’s going to piss someone off and it does kind of suck. Cause you’re like this is my job and I have to be very honest with the people that are trusting me to be honest with them on the other side of the screen. But sometimes you walk through groups of fighters like damn, I don’t know who I said something about. Who did I piss off in this group?”
Smith admits that he’s dealt with his own inner turmoil when hearing another athlete or even a journalist giving a negative take on his performance or perhaps just picking against him.
While it might still rub him the wrong way occasionally, Smith has evolved with much thicker skin over time because now he knows what its like to sit on the other side of that aisle as an analyst.
“I’ve gotten pissed off about it before, too,” Smith said. “Since I’ve been on the analyst and broadcasting side, I’ve taken it a lot less personal.
“It bothers me to have to pick against a lot of these people because I like them personally as people. But I have take all of that aside and push my own feelings and my own relationships with these guys to the side and I have to break it down as I see it’s going to happen.”