But word traveled back to him quickly enough, so out of sheer curiosity he went and checked it out. And suffice to say, he was surprised — and a bit confused — to see some of the more aggressive comments his fellow light heavyweight had to say about him.
“I didn’t see it live, but I had enough people reach out that I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll go back and watch and see what this is about.’ I don’t know. What a nerd. I just laughed at it the whole time,” Smith said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “Like, what are you so mad about?
“It sounds like a bunch of sh*t that’s bothering him, that he’s got to convince himself. And then at the end he hit me with the old ‘Watchmen’ quote, when Rorschach was in prison: ‘I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me.’ Get out of here, you f*cking dork. Listen, I don’t want to take this too deep because there’s no beef there. I definitely don’t have his respect, which is fine. I will next Saturday night, I promise you that.”
Smith, 33, has been around the fight game too long be fazed by any sort of forced trash talk. With 51 professional fights under his belt and Sept. 18 marking his eighth headlining bout over his last nine UFC appearances, “Lionheart” is accustomed to the spotlight that comes with an event like next weekend’s. The same can’t be said for Spann.
Not only will Spann be competing in his first UFC main event against Smith, but by the time Spann made his professional MMA debut in 2013, Smith already owned more fights on his MMA record (27) than Spann currently does now (25). There’s a certain level of confidence and composure that comes with that experience, Smith said. But even still, as someone who is generally hailed as one of the most amiable personalities around the sport, Smith isn’t exactly sure where all this bad blood is coming from on Spann’s side.
“He’s one of the more dangerous guys that I’ve faced in a long time,” Smith said. “He’s super powerful. He’s athletic. He’s really big, he moves well. He has a lot of positive things to his game. I respect his abilities, for sure. I respect his attributes. I respect his skills. I just don’t — I guess I don’t talk about him. Like, I don’t really know him. I have gotten a vibe that he doesn’t like me. We’ve been in the same place before, we’ve been in situations where we’re very close to each other, and I just get this vibe that he just doesn’t like me. Which is, you don’t have to like everybody, but sometimes I do wonder — I feel like I’m kind of a hard guy to dislike, so I don’t know what that’s about, but honestly I don’t give a sh*t either way.
“Some of that stuff, that’s his own insecurities. You know what I mean? He’s the one who kept talking about, ‘This is a main event and I’m not nervous.’ Well, you’re the one who keeps talking about it. This is just everyday sh*t for me. You’re the one who keeps bringing it up.”
Smith ultimately has his own road to worry about, and he’s done a stellar job thus far in rebounding from a tough chapter of his career. After dropping back-to-back fights against top-ranked contenders Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic in 2020, Smith has been thrown to the metaphorical wolves by UFC matchmakers and repeatedly booked against young prospects who are rising up the 205-pound ranks. Spann is the third straight example following Smith’s first-round stoppages of Devin Clark and Jimmy Crute. And while some fighters may get discouraged in his shoes, Smith understands that his recent slate of opposition is simply part of the game when you’re among the best in the world.
“I think the UFC’s idea was that I kind of stubbed my toe a couple times at the top, and I think it was a sink-or-swim moment for me,” Smith said. “I don’t know if it’s such a kumbaya moment where it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s let him get back on his feet and figure it out from there.’ I think it’s more like, ‘Alright, if you’re not beating the top-5 guys, you’ve got to defend your spot versus these young up-and-comers. And I’m willing to do that because, I hate the term ‘company guy’ but the UFC’s been very good for my career and me personally and my own personal growth and success, so I’ll do the heavy lifting.
“Nobody wants to fight Jimmy Crute, no one wants to fight Ryan Spann. Those just aren’t super fun guys to fight. They’re really, really tough. There’s not a lot of stuff you gain from that and it’s going to not be very much fun most likely.”
In the end, it’s all business for Smith. So when he says that Spann doesn’t present him with any sort of challenge he hasn’t seen before, Smith isn’t trying to insult his opponent. He’s simply speaking his truth and leaning on his experiences at the highest levels of the sport.
“Essentially that’s what it came down to, is, at the top of every division you have guys who are specialists, right? And guys who are just really good at keeping the fight in their kind of arena,” Smith said. “And the rest of the division is — I know Ryan Spann takes it as disrespect when I say that there’s nothing that stands out about him. I’m not saying he’s not good. I’m just saying he’s not an Olympic medalist wrestler, he’s not a multiple-time world champion grappler, he’s not 150-1 as a kickboxer. He doesn’t do one thing overly better than the rest of his skills, so I don’t have to worry about sh*t when I’m in training camp.
“We just have to go in and we evaluate the places that he’s dangerous, and then I just try to sharpen my sword the best I can, and that’s the best part about this. When you’re fighting guys like Rakic, the thing that stands out about Rakic is he’s a monster kicker. I mean, he out-kicked Thiago Santos — nobody does that. He battered my leg with two leg kicks to where I couldn’t barely stand. You’ve got a guy like Glover who’s got a nasty left hook and his jiu-jitsu is f*cking fire. You’ve got Jan Blachowicz, crazy top game, really crazy power in his left hands. There’s things like that on all those guys.
“You can kind of figure out what their thing is,” Smith continued. “Jimmy Crute doesn’t have that thing, Devin Clark doesn’t have that thing, and Ryan Spann doesn’t have that thing. So I can just train freely and just try to be as good as I can. So being in that position and fighting down in the rankings a little bit has allowed me to do that and just focus on myself.”