Anthony “Lionheart” Smith had arguably the best 2018 of any UFC fighter, moving up from 185 pounds following a Fight of the Night loss to Thiago Santos to go on a tear at 205 that saw him win three impressive fights in a row. He bounced back from a disappointing performance against Jon Jones in 2019 to defeat Alexander Gustafsson, but now 2020 has him on a two fight skid following a lopsided decision loss to Aleksandar Rakic at UFC Vegas 8 (watch the highlights here).
Both of those losses came in similar fashion, with his opponents out-muscling him and pinning him to the mat where he got worked. The working he got at the hands of Glover Teixeira was so bad it ignited a firestorm of controversy over his corner’s unwillingness to throw in the towel for him. Not great.
That’s a sentiment Smith seems to agree with, and he sounds at a loss for what to do other than hope the UFC opens up a 195 pound division. Yeah, don’t hold your breath.
“I’ve never been one of the guys that’s out here pining and calling for more weight classes, but in these last couple of fights that’s kind of where my brain goes,” Smith said in an interview on the ESPN+ post-fight show (via MMA Junkie).
“I’m just too big for 185, and you start getting into these bigger, stronger, taller, longer guys. They’re just so strong. … I think I got some big decisions to make in my career and figure out where we go from here. It’s super frustrating to lose to a guy you feel you can beat.”
“The first round I kind of stayed in kicking range at the beginning, which was obviously stupid now. He just beat on my lead leg, and then we got into clinch and grappling exchanges, which I felt OK in, but he was just so strong. He’s so big,” Smith said. “… He was so tight on top that I couldn’t make any space. I guess just my biggest takeaway is that he’s just so big and so strong.”
“I don’t know. (One hundred and eighty-five pounds) is still really tough,” Smith said. “It’s a total lifestyle change, and that’s year-round. It’s not like one of those things where I can get into camp and change my diet and cut down. It’s a complete lifestyle change. I guess that’s one of the options. I guess the other option is to take some time off and get bigger. I don’t know. I’ve got some things to decide on.”
So Anthony Smith sits at a crossroads: cut back down to middleweight, potentially impacting his chin and punching power, or bulk up and risk losing the speed that’s helped him connect first against bigger foes. One thing is for sure: he can’t continue as he’s going now, because his last two fights were ugly.