Anthony Smith plans to retire in the UFC.
Heading into his fight against Magomed Ankalaev at UFC 277, Smith was on the final fight of his contract with the organization and was considering testing the free agency waters. Ultimately, “Lionheart” passed on that, re-signing with the UFC just a few days before the event, and one of the main reasons for that was all the outside-the-cage work he has with the company.
“I want to be a UFC fighter,” Smith told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I’m not saying that I’m about to retire, but I’ve got more time behind me than I have ahead of me. I want to end my career as a UFC fighter, and I want to continue covering the UFC as a broadcaster. I like working for ESPN. I like working for the UFC and doing the Fight Nights. At some point I want to transition to calling those fights live, and not being with the UFC interrupts that plan. That’s been the plan for a long time now. So I’m happy we were able to get it done.
“There’s an intrinsic value that carries on post-career for me that comes from staying with the UFC. Honestly, it’s comfortable. I know everybody, I know the staff, I know everyone in the back. I’m very comfortable. It was just the numbers that we had to figure out, and I’ve always said if you want more money, you’ve got to bring more value, and I’ve done that. So I’m happy. I’m happy financially, I’m happy with the amount of fights, I’m happy with the terms. I’m good.”
Smith has been with the UFC since 2016 (though he did have one fight with the promotion in 2013) and joined the analyst desk in 2018. Since then, he has been a regular on UFC broadcasts, and while “Lionheart” admits he likely could have made more on a per fight basis in free agency, he’s planning on sticking with the UFC long after his fighting career is finished.
“Realistically, where am I going to make more money, at the end of the day? It’s not about right now, it’s in the next 15 years,” Smith said. “Go from now to 15 years. Could I make more money now, per fight, for a short period of time, somewhere else? Possibly. Likely. Very likely. But in the next 15 years, when I’m not fighting anymore and I’m doing broadcasting and we’re looking at analyst roles and all that stuff, I’m going to make way more money staying with the UFC and continuing my career as an analyst and a broadcaster post-career. So I’m just thinking long term. And to be fair, I’m very, very happy with where I’m at.”
Smith noted that he’s tried to emulate the careers of some fellow fighters who made the transition to analysis and commentary, like Daniel Cormier and his Michael Bisping, and said that one of the big things he’s noticed and taken to heart is the way to negotiate with the UFC.
“I don’t know what it is about a lot of these other negotiations, and maybe some of this other stuff that happens with other fighters, there wasn’t a lot of animosity,” Smith said. “It was just, at the time, we couldn’t come to terms and we couldn’t agree on anything. It wasn’t like, ‘You suck and I hate you!’ For the most part it was pretty chill. They came to the table, I came to the table, neither one of us could agree, so we just backed away from the table and we signed the fight with Ankalaev and it never got brought up. I didn’t bring it up and they didn’t bring it up, and that was really it. I work for the UFC, I work for ESPN, I see people all the time and the relationships were fine. I’d see Mick Maynard and it’s like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and it’s a hug. I’d see Hunter [Campbell] and Dana [White] and it’s not a big deal. We just never brought it up again.
“I never go to the media and talk about my personal contract stuff. I know that people get mad about this, but I do believe there’s something to be said for that. I don’t go to the media and try to negotiate through the media. I don’t play that game where I’m going to talk s*** and get angry and hope that the media is going to help me out, or that the fans are going to clamor for something and then all of a sudden Dana’s going to be like, ‘No, we’ve got to pay him.’ It just doesn’t work like that. I’ve never seen it work. Maybe I’m wrong and I missed it but I’ve never seen it work, so I’ve never done it.”
Smith’s strategy paid off, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The No. 8-ranked light heavyweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings fractured his leg against Ankalaev and will now likely be out of fight action until 2023. Fortunately, he’s got the analyst work to fall back on and the UFC is keeping him busy, with Smith working the next three shows for the promotion.
“Fortunately I have the analyst stuff, so I’m working the next three events,” Smith said. “No rest for the wicked. I’m going to San Diego, then I’m going to Salt Lake City, then we’ve got a week off, and then I’m going to Paris.”
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