Rivalries: Anthony Smith

By Brian Knapp Jan 29, 2021
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Anthony Smith serves as a model of perseverance, the onetime journeyman having transformed himself into an unlikely Ultimate Fighting Championship contender.

“Lionheart” made his mixed martial arts debut in 2008 and compiled a mediocre 5-6 record through his first 11 professional appearances. All six of his losses resulted in finishes. From there, Smith straightened out his career, proved himself on the regional scene and earned a call from the UFC in 2013, only to submit to a first-round kneebar from Antonio Braga Neto in his first Octagon appearance. After spending time in Bellator MMA, Cage Fury Fighting Championships and the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, Smith returned to the UFC some two years later, enjoyed some success at middleweight and made a surprising move to 205 pounds. It breathed new life into his career, as he rattled off consecutive finishes against Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua and Volkan Oezdemir to cement himself as the No. 1 contender. Though he has leveled out since, Smith remains a Top 10 fixture in the light heavyweight division.

As the Marc Montoya protégé awaits his next assignment, a look at some of the rivalries on which he has built his reputation:

Josh Neer

Smith entered his Jan. 29, 2016 rematch against Josh Neer with revenge in mind. Neer had submitted “Lionheart” with a third-round rear-naked choke at Victory Fighting Championship 41 two years earlier and intended to move to 2-0 in their head-to-head series. Much more was at stake—the fate of the promotion’s vacant middleweight championship hung in the balance—when they met for a second time at VFC 47 in Omaha, Nebraska. Armed with four-inch reach and five-inch height advantages, Smith remained calm under early duress as “The Dentist” forced him to the fence and engaged him at close range. Neer executed a takedown midway through the first round but failed to secure a dominant position, his lack of attention to detail allowing his counterpart to escape to his feet. Smith turned the tide with elbow strikes and knees from the clinch, trapped Neer in a corner and unleashed with punches and elbows until referee Brandon Pfannenstiel called for the stoppage 3:27 into Round 1. Less than a month later, Smith returned to the UFC. Neer, meanwhile, has not fought since.

Jon Jones

Jones spent the better part of 25 minutes educating Anthony Smith on the vast gulf that exists between good and great. “Bones” retained the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title with a convincing but somewhat pedestrian unanimous decision over Smith in the UFC 235 headliner on March 2, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. All three judges scored it 48-44, owing to a two-point deduction with which Jones was hit for an illegal knee strike in the fourth round. Outside of the aforementioned foul, Jones was on cruise control. He broke down Smith with spinning back kicks to the body and front kicks to the face, tortured him in the clinch and mixed in a few takedowns for good measure, consolidating them with ground-and-pound and positional control. Jones outlanded the challenger by an eye-popping 238-45 margin in the total strikes department. Of the 125 significant strikes with which he was credited, more than half (80) went to the legs and body.

Alexander Gustafsson

Smith’s unlikely Cinderella run continued, as he submitted three-time Ultimate Fighting Championship title challenger Alexander Gustafsson with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round of their UFC Fight Night 153 main event on June 1, 2019 at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. Gustafsson raised the white flag 2:38 into Round 4. The fight appeared to be there for the taking before the finish. Gustafsson outstruck “Lionheart” across the first 15 minutes—he did so by a 38-15 margin in Round 3, where he also executed his only takedown—but saw his situation unravel in the fourth. There, Smith bullied his way to a takedown, advanced to the back and flattened out the Swede. A series of ferocious elbows and punches followed, setting the stage for the choke. An immediate hush fell over the pro-Gustafsson crowd, his fellow Swedes shocked by the outcome.

Glover Teixeira

So severe was the beating that they were collecting Smith’s teeth off the mat. The ageless Teixeira continued to defy Father Time, as he disposed of Smith with fifth-round punches in the UFC Fight Night 171 headliner on May 13, 2020 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Smith succumbed to an accumulation of damage 64 seconds into Round 5, the unwitting victim in Sherdog’s “Beatdown of the Year.” Teixeira steadied himself after a difficult first round in which he absorbed 29 significant strikes to the head and saw “Lionheart” outland him by close to a 3-to-1 margin. Smith pushed an unsustainable pace and began showing signs of fatigue in Round 2, his slowed movements and labored breathing prompting his counterpart to shift gears. The Factory X representative’s situation only deteriorated from there. Teixeira floored him with a left hook in the middle stanza, advanced to a dominant position on the canvas and unleashed hell. Smith somehow survived, but the nightmarish damage inflicted upon him had lasting effects. Over the final two-plus rounds, Teixeira connected on 94 significant strikes and took just 13 in return. Advertisement
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