At UFC 277, Smith had a difficult time making the light heavyweight limit, having to use of the towel to make 206-pounds and generally looking pretty drained. Ultimately, Smith hit the mark though and kept up his record of never having missed weight in the UFC. But to hear him tell it, “Lionheart” used to struggle mightily with making the cut at middleweight.
“If the cuts to ‘85 back in the day were a 10, I would say I was at a six,” Smith told said on The MMA Hour when asked about the UFC 277 weight cut. “... The cuts to ‘85 were a 10. There were several times when I was cutting to ‘85 that I wasn’t sure I was going to live. It was bad.
“I used to have to kneel in the back behind the curtain for a long time, and then I’d have to hurry up and stand. Like, if they had the little weird [manual] scale, they would have to put it exactly where I said that I was on the check scale, because if I had to stand there any longer and let them f*** around with it for too long, I’d pass out. So they would say, ‘What does he think he’s at?’ and I’d tell them I’m right on 186, on the dot. Then I’d kneel, and I’d have to kneel with my head up, and as soon as I stood my coaches would get me up, I’d stand on the scale, and that’s why I was rushed to the back, because I wasn’t going to be conscious much longer. Like, I couldn’t even walk from my hotel to the scale. If it was a five minute walk, it would take me 15 minutes because every five steps or so I’d have to kneel because I was trying to stay conscious.”
Despite the obvious difficulty with the weight cut, Smith fought the majority of his career at middleweight and only came in heavy once, weighting 188 pounds for a fight in Strikeforce in 2011. He made the move to light heavyweight in 2018, and has had no issues making the weight until UFC 277, which Smith puts down to adding on muscle for his fight with Magomed Ankalaev.
“It wasn’t as bad as cutting to 185, but it was a tough one,” Smith said. “I put a lot of focus in the last year of just trying to put on some size and strength and physically be able to go with these guys in the top five, which I was able to do and I felt really good. The flip side of that is the weight cut that comes with that.
“Super lean. I think I checked in at just above 230 on Tuesday. And I think I just miscalculated it a little bit. It just didn’t come off as fast as I expected it to during the week. So I had a good chunk to do Thursday night, Friday morning...
“I wouldn’t even say it was really bad, it was just a big weight cut. It was the first big one I’ve had at 205. But I felt really good. It was just the extra muscle and size I put on. And I think I just misjudged it through the week. The UFC asked me several times. I think they were like, ‘Jesus, you checked in pretty heavy.’ They kept saying, ‘Do you want us to help you? Do you want us to monitor this?’ And I was like, nah, nah, nah, I’ve got this. I’ve been doing this a while. So I kind of blew them off as far as letting them manage it and I think I just misjudged it. But it was fine. I think I did from Thursday night to Friday morning, I think I cut 14 [pounds].”
Smith says the decision to add weight was not specifically to face Ankalaev, but has been an ongoing goal of his since losing to Aleksandar Rakic in 2020, and feeling like his lack of size was a key factor.
“It was back to 230 Saturday,” he said. “I just rehydrated and ate. Rakic was the one that made me really decide that I needed to put on some size because he was so strong and so heavy. That was the first time I’d ever felt like I just got stuck because someone was stronger than me. I’ve obviously been in there with really good guys, guys that are crazy technical and you get behind and are stuck, but he was so strong. And I kind of cheated. When I was in the back after the fight and they were checking me out, they have your fight night weight written down, and he was 238.”
Unfortunately for Smith, the additional weight did not help him against Ankalaev. Smith lost by second-round TKO after suffering a leg break in the first round of their fight. Smith had surgery to repair the injury and will be out of action for several months as he rehabs his leg.