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51 fights into his MMA career, Anthony Smith is still at the peak of his game

·Combat columnist
·5 min read
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LAS VEGAS — Lightweight champion Charles Oliveira has 39 professional fights, which is three more than light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz. And Blachowicz’s 36 bouts are 10 more than the next UFC champion on the list, flyweight Brandon Moreno, who has 26.

None of the No. 1 contenders in any of the UFC’s divisions has more than light heavyweight Glover Teixeira’s 38 pro bouts. Flyweight Jessica Andrade is next with 30.

Training for MMA is so difficult that it’s hard for fighters to put together long careers with 50 or more bouts.

And then there is Anthony Smith, the UFC’s sixth-ranked light heavyweight contender, who on Saturday at Apex will meet No. 11 Ryan Spann in the main event of UFC Vegas 37.

Smith’s bout with Spann will be the 52nd of a career that spans 13 years, meaning he’s averaged an incredible four fights a year over his entire career. Even someone like Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who at his peak sometimes seemed to be fighting every other weekend, isn’t averaging four fights a year. Cerrone has 52 pro fights, but he began in 2006.

Smith’s longevity is amazing, particularly since he’s still basically at the peak of his game.

Since coming to the UFC, where he’s fighting the best fighters in the world on a regular basis, Smith’s pace has slowed, but he’s still in there more often than most. And it takes a toll on the body because of the type of training MMA fighters are required to do.

“It’s much better now, to be honest with you, than it was early on in my career,” Smith said of the physical toll such a workload has on his body. “A lot of those fights, I was fighting once a month. If you go back and look at a couple of those years, there are a couple when I fought six or eight times. I was fighting every other month, I was banged up, I was making s*** money and I was having to go in injured. It was real bad for a while.”

Smith fought six times in 2008, his rookie year as a pro and again in 2011. Three full years into his career, he had 18 fights.

It’s almost impossible to keep that kind of pace when you’re fighting the opposition that Smith has been, guys like Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira, Alexander Gustafsson, Shogun Rua, Rashad Evans, Volkan Oezdemir and Jimmy Crute.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - APRIL 24: Anthony Smith reacts after defeating Jim Crute of Australia by TKO in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 261 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Anthony Smith reacts after defeating Jim Crute of Australia by TKO in their light heavyweight bout during the UFC 261 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

He’s a guy who basically won’t take no for an answer. He wasn’t the highly touted guy coming out of a powerful collegiate wrestling program with national championships to his name and an Olympic pedigree. Few people, inside or out of the sport, knew who he was when he started.

After making the UFC for the first time five-plus years into his career, he was cut after losing his one and only fight. It was another three years before he’d make it for good.

That journey has made Smith the intimidating contender that he has become. He gave Jones one of his stiffest tests when Jones held the light heavyweight title. He choked out Gustafsson on the road in front of a hostile crowd in Sweden.

And he hasn’t given up hope of one day having UFC president Dana White wrap the light heavyweight title belt around his waist. One of the talented analysts who works the pre-fight and post-fight shows for the UFC, Smith has had a chance to sit down with UFC ringside analyst Michael Bisping.

Smith sees a lot of himself in Bisping, an underdog who wouldn’t quit until he got to the top. The two have talked about that often, and Smith said Bisping’s win over the legendary Anderson Silva continues to motivate him. He was especially interested in the sequence when Silva caught Bisping with a knee.

“Bisping was out of it and he was hurt and everyone thought he was done, like, ‘That’s it,’” Smith said. “I feel that Michael Bisping moment is my entire career culminated in that one moment. Everyone thinks he’s done. Everyone thinks he’s down and out. And [he was like], ‘God damn, let’s get on this stool and figure it out and get after this thing.’ Just talking about it gives me chills, how he turned it back on. The lights came back on and he slowly kept chipping away at Anderson.

“I think that’s my career kind of molded into a moment. That’s how I like to look at it. I like to think if the same thing happened to me, I’d be able to do the same thing Bisping did. And if my career goes like that, and I end up in a title shot and getting in an unfavorable position and I end up winning it and I sail off, that would be the perfect story for me.”

They doubted Bisping and he proved them wrong.

Doubt Anthony Smith at your own peril.

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