Prolific finisher, Anthony Smith, will duel with legendary knockout artist, Mauricio Rua, this Sunday night (July 22, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 134 inside Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany.
Smith’s career is largely a story of perseverance. At one point, Smith’s professional record was 5-6. At another, he was released by the UFC in 2013 after just one fight, his fourth career submission loss. In 10 years, Smith has been stopped via strikes or submission 12 times.
Nevertheless, Smith has improved and persisted. After a dreadful 0-3 year in 2013, Smith won seven straight fights and earned a second chance inside the Octagon. Modern day, Smith has won four of his last five fights and stopped each opponent. His confidence has grown with his skill set, and now Smith has a chance to jump into the Light Heavyweight top 10.
Let’s take a closer look at his abilities.
A product of the Factory X fight team in Colorado, Smith is very much a Muay Thai representative. A tall and lanky fighter at whatever division he chooses to compete at, Smith does not make use of his range with a snapping jab, great range control, and fast feet. Instead, Smith stalks opponents — his length isn’t used to land without being hit but simply to make sure he hits no matter what.
Smith is very willing to take a shot in an effort to land one. That may sound like a terrible strategy given his knockout losses, but it’s worth mentioning that Smith has been stopped with strikes just once in the previous seven years, and that loss came to the absurdly powerful kicks of Thiago Santos.
Offensively, Smith tends to work one or two strikes at a time unless flurrying. Though he really doesn’t work hard to maintain range, Smith will pop the occasional jab. It’s a spearing strike, one intended to do damage more than set other punches. Once that’s established though, Smith does find better success with his lead left hook, and he’ll also slip to load up a lead hand uppercut. Something Smith does on occasion is drop to the mid-section with his left hook, which is definitely a strike he should rely on more often given his strategy of wearing foes down.
Much of the time, Smith is looking to lead with his right cross. At times, this can leave him very vulnerable — the cross is a slower punch from further back compared to lead hand strikes, meaning it’s easier to counter, particularly since Smith is not a lightning fast puncher. However, when Smith does not lean too far forward with the punch, it can allow him to pull back and return when his foe tries to counter (GIF).
Truthfully, Smith’s boxing would not get him far were it not for his kicks, knees, and elbows. Again, Smith’s intent above all else is to land and do damage, and kicks fit the bill perfectly for breaking opponents down. While stalking, Smith will commonly chop at his opponent’s lead leg while he backs away from “Lionheart.”
Smith’s body kicks are a great weapon, and his setups are very classic Muay Thai. Usually, it’s the left hook-right body kick or cross-left body kick. In addition, Smith has been more active with his front kick straight up the middle. That’s yet another strike Smith could use more of: a long distance, reasonably safe blow that directly attacks the gas tank.
Smith will also fire knees from this distance with similar setups to his body kicks. That’s a product of his height, as Smith can hit opponents from far away and reach the chin easily thanks to his long limbs.
Smith will also fire high kicks off the left hook and right cross, but lately his best head kicks have come at the end of flurries. Once Smith gets his foe moving backward away from his long punches, Smith will run his foe into the fence and cap the combination off with a hard high kick (GIF).
Elbows are the last major piece of Smith’s offense. Generally, Smith is looking for his right elbow, usually setting it up with a left hand frame/jab at range or on the break of the clinch. Against Elvis Mutapcic, Smith scored his first UFC knockout by latching onto the single-collar tie with his left hand when Mutapcic punched. Mutapcic tried to circle away from the tie to escape, but he moved directly into a fight-finishing right elbow instead.
Defensively, the best thing Smith could do without revamping his whole style would be to feint more. Shorter men like Hector Lombard and Andrew Sanchez were able to counter him with head shots over and over because Smith rarely fakes. He’s always pushing forward behind hard strikes, which means a skilled fighter can consistently predict where his head will be.
Smith is not much of an offensive wrestler — he generally only goes to the shot when being swarmed — but his defense has definitely been called into question many times. For much of his career, Smith’s flat-footed kickboxing and height have resulted in many easy takedowns for his opponent. As just mentioned, the lack of feints is also a problem in this area, as it allows his opponent to know a power punch is coming and duck under that punch for easy access to a double leg.
Still, there has been definite improvement. First and foremost, Smith does a better job of bending his knees. Length is great, but looking down at an opponent is poor positioning. In his last few fights, Smith has done a better job of working from eye level with his opponents, which makes defending the takedown far easier.
One thing Smith does very well in use the overhook in the clinch. Whenever he’s able to stop a shot or simply faced with a clinch attempt, Smith will weigh heavily on at least one overhook and get his hips back. As his opponent moves forward to close that newly created gap, Smith will meet his mid-section with a hard knee. Usually, that saps his opponent’s will to grapple, allowing Smith to cut an angle and escape the clinch.
In addition, Smith will use a position known as The A Frame in the clinch to defend takedowns and do damage. In this week’s technique analysis, we take a look at how the frame in the clinch can be so useful.
Despite his five submission losses — two of which were to jiu-jitsu legends, and the most recent came in 2013 — Smith has shown slick grappling throughout much of his career. He has 11 submission wins total, including a wild inverted triangle opposite UFC Middleweight and jiu-jitsu black belt Tim Williams.
Smith’s go-to submission is undoubtedly the triangle choke. Given his long legs, Smith only needs a small opportunity to pass an arm through his legs and leave his opponent trapped. Once his foe is caught, Smith can put a ton of leverage into the submission almost immediately.
Smith has yet to score a tapout in his current UFC run, but he did show a nice piece of jiu-jitsu opposite a talented wrestler in Andrew Sanchez. From half guard, Smith reached across his body to isolate Sanchez’s wrist with both hands. Usually, this is the first step to a stand up, but Smith instead pinned that wrist to the mat and bumped with his hips. Sanchez was unable to free his wrist and fell over, resulting in a rather Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira-esque half guard sweep.
Smith is still a flawed fighter, but one who has learned to maximize his strengths. In addition to technical improvements, confidence has long been a tool of great fighters, and it’s clear that Smith is only growing in that regard. Win or lose, expect Smith to take it to Rua in a fight that should be highly entertaining.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.