Not many combat sports competitors’ careers’ survive a four consecutive fight losing streak. One loss, let alone multiple losses, can derail a hype train and/or mark “the beginning of the end” of a career overnight. For Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (31-13), the opportunity to be challenging Jon “Bones” Jones (23-1-1) for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 235 (T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV) in March has been a long, hard fought road. Nearly nine years ago, Smith’s own career came to a crossroads at the young age of 21. He had just dropped his fourth straight professional fight and had a sub .500 win percentage (5-6) fighting in the regional circuit.
Where many others before him (and many more to come in the future) have succumbed to such circumstances, “Lionheart” Smith persevered and continued to chase every prizefighter’s dream – a championship.
Smith went on to accomplish just that, winning Middleweight Championships in regional promotions: CFFC and VFC. Since that time, Smith has gone (26-7), including: (7-3) overall in the UFC, (2-0) overall in Bellator, and (2-2) overall in Strikeforce. This impressive run, if you will, over nearly the past decade, has included wins over: Logan Clark, Josh Neer, Tim Williams, Rashad Evans, Maurício Rua, and Volkan Oezdemir.
The latter three being his first and last three opponents faced in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight Division since moving up a weight class from the Middleweight Division in mid-2018. He finished all three in convincing fashion, thus immediately propelling and cementing himself as a top contender in the division long ruled by “Bones” Jones, despite his recent absences from the sport.
We’ve basically witnessed Anthony Smith’s development right before our eyes. He’s always been an active fighter; now, having amassed (44) professional fights (avg. 3x/year) at the age of 30. He’s improved noticeably each fight despite constantly being in camp and unable to focus solely on skill(s) development.
Most can agree, Smith has transformed and established himself as an elite and well-rounded mixed martial artist. It appears he is in his “prime” and has hit his stride professionally on both sides of the octagon fence. This, possibly, could be due to the fact Smith may have found a more suitable, or more favorable weight class in the Light Heavyweight Division. Undoubtedly, Smith has done a great job of entertaining fans inside the octagon having a (90%) career finish rate.
“Lionheart” has been just as busy outside of the octagon. Up until as recently as 2016, he was a full-time, blue collar trade worker in addition to his professional mixed martial arts career. Since he’s found success in the UFC in his second go-around, Smith has proven to be a talented self-promoter, using social media platforms and fan friendly events to interact with and make new fans. He’s established a great rapport with the media, and, by most accounts, performed well as a commentator during his guest appearances on FOX.
Despite all of the setbacks and successes, the ups and downs of his career, Smith has remained humble, respectful, and patient and it’s “his time” now. Call it a run, call it whatever you’d like, but the fact is “Lionheart” has earned the single greatest and most difficult challenge of his mixed arts career in facing the puzzle that is Jon Jones – another “lion”, THE “lion” – for his chance at another championship – UFC gold.
When asked about Jon Jones at a press event for UFC Denver, Smith stated, “I don’t give a shit about Jon Jones. It’s about the title to me. I’m the only one that has legit(imate) finishing abilities against Jon Jones.” Despite what seem like insurmountable odds, you can’t help but admire and can never really count out a fighter like Smith who truly believes in himself and his ability to win any fight. With (7) weeks remaining until the showdown, “Bones” on the “road to redemption”, and Smith looking to shock the world and cap off an unprecedented run, fight fans can’t help but get excited for what has the potential to be an exciting Light Heavyweight Championship contest.