Anthony Smith felt making the move from middleweight to light heavyweight would be best for his career. He had started to struggle making weight at 185 and the effort to shed the pounds affected his performance, especially in his last fight in the weight class — a second-round TKO loss to Thiago Santos this past February.
The switch to 205 pounds has looked to be career-defining thus far, as Smith scored back-to-back KOs against Rashad Evans in June and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in July. And it took him a combined two minutes and 22 seconds to do so.
Smith thought the pair of victories in a six-week period would quiet critics, but that wasn’t the case, as all he seemed to hear was chatter about how Evans and Rua are well past their primes, instead.
Smith (30-13) is at the point, where he’s tired of hearing the constant criticism.
He’s tired of people discrediting the hard work he has put in to get to this stage of being a championship contender.
Now, the 30-year-old plans on silencing his naysayers when he takes on Volkan Oezdemir, who the last fighter to challenge light heavyweight division kingpin Daniel Cormier, before Cormier moved to heavyweight. Smith will clash with Oezdemir in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
“I was really happy about the (Oezdemir) matchup because of where he sits in the division,” Smith tells Sporting News. “Who else do you got to beat after that to get a title shot? I was happy about that. I’m happy because I can shut some haters up. I’m really getting sick of this old guy thing. I’m not out here beating helpless little children.”
He added: “It started to bother me. Before, I was like whatever. Now, its really starting to piss me off at this point. These people are out here thinking I’m picking and choosing who I fight. The UFC calls and I answer. That’s it. That’s as far as the conversation goes. They say, ‘Will you fight?’ I say ‘yes’ before they even tell me who it is. I don’t care who I fight. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll fight. I don’t decide who I fight. I just accept the challenge.”
When asked why critics don’t give him respect for the superb showings against Evans and Rua, Smith initially couldn’t put a finger on it. After thinking about it further, he was able to pinpoint an answer. The Nebraska native believes his fighting style has prevented fans from gravitating to him.
“I think people respect the path I’ve taken and how I’ve gotten to this point. I honestly believe I have an ugly style of fighting,” Smith concedes. “It’s not like ‘Holy Cow, what a great fighter! ‘Oh my god, he’s so fast!’ Or, ‘Damn he’s good!’ I just have an odd style. Until the violence starts, it’s not the most aesthetically-pleasing. You’re not going to get boxing coaches to talk about how clean my hands are.”
He added: “Everything I do though is effective. It’s my own style and it’s my own way of doing things. I’m an athlete when I need to be. I’m smart and I’m tricky. I set traps and I make people do the wrong decisions. I don’t force things in there. Instead of forcing you to go right, I’ll pretend I make you want to go left and I’ll make you go right yourself. It’s not the most jaw-dropping style by looking at me from the outside. If you just watch me, people think I’m not that good. I think that has a little bit to do with that to be honest with you.”
If Smith is victorious on Saturday, a title shot versus the winner of the Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson fight at UFC 232 would seemingly be on the horizon in 2019. “Lionheart” knows what the hard-hitting Oezdemir brings to the table. But he’s viewing this bout as an opportunity to prove a point. He’s just not holding his breath for critics to give him respect.
“I’m going to go in there and beat Volkan and then I’m going to get a little respect,” Smith said. “I’m going to shut the people up that are just saying I’m beating up old guys. But at the end of the day, I never get respect for anybody that I’ve ever beaten. It’s going to be more of the same and I just got to get used to that.”