If there were any questions as to whether Anthony Smith’s run as a light heavyweight was legit, those inquiries were answered Saturday when “Lionheart” choked out No. 2-ranked Volkan Oezdemir in the third round of the main event of UFC Fight Night 138 at the Avenir Centre in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Smith ran roughshod over two future Hall of Famers, Shogun Rua and Rashad Evans, when he entered the 205-pound division, knocking out both inside of a round. Both men were considered to be on the wrong side of their careers, though, so Oezdemir represented Smith’s stiffest test to date because the Swiss fighter had just competed for the light heavyweight title against Daniel Cormier. Some thought the No. 10-ranked Smith was biting off more than he could chew with this bout, but the 30-year-old proved he deserved to be mentioned among the division’s elite.
A fight that was expected to end quickly began with Smith making a surprise takedown attempt. Oezdemir stuffed it, but he was soon met with another try by Smith. Oezdemir began to land heavy strikes and work a leg kick while Smith appeared to be trying to process a Plan B.
In the second round, Oezdemir continued to chop at the leg with kicks that clearly hampered Smith’s mobility. Eventually, Smith got a grip on the leg but Oezdemir managed to find himself on Smith’s back and working punches. A content Smith simply turtled and avoided damage.
It looked as if Smith was worn down in the third, but he exploded with powerful strikes. Smith eventually secured a takedown and immediately took his opponent’s back. Smith sunk the hooks in and wrapped his arm around his foe’s neck. Oezdemir squeezed with all his might as the panic showed on Oezdemir’s face. With blood streaming from his nose and impairing his breathing, Oezdemir finally relented and tapped out at 4:26 of the round.
Smith improved to 3-0 in a division that is ripe for the taking. With Jon Jones set to face Alexander Gustafsson for the title that Cormier will be forced to relinquish, and with a lot of fighters in the division having had their own ups and downs, Smith could find himself in line for a title shot in 2019.