UFC Hamburg: Anthony Smith regrets not moving up to light heavyweight sooner

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Anthony Smith, Getty Images (Getty Images)

Things were looking up for Anthony Smith in the UFC’s middleweight division going into his fight with Thiago Santos in February.

He had a three-fight winning streak and a win over Santos in the latter’s home country of Brazil could have put him in the top 10. Santos won though by second-round TKO and Smith’s mindset began to change.

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Smith, 29, (29-13) decided it was time to shake things up and move up to 205 pounds and it’s so far, so good for Smith in his new journey.

He knocked out former champion Rashad Evans in just 53 seconds at UFC 225 in June. Now, he’s getting rewarded with another opportunity, stepping up as a late replacement for Volkan Oezdemir to headline Sunday’s UFC Hamburg versus another former 205-pound champion, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

“That’s my only regret,” Smith told Sporting News. “I wish I would have done this when I wanted to begin with. Hindsight is 20-20 obviously. I was on a winning streak at 185 and things were going well. I was getting finishes, but they always weren’t the prettiest fights.

“I always knew the reason I was getting into these ugly battles and (sic) it had to do with the weight cut. It really did. I don’t make any excuses for what happened in the Thiago Santos fight. I don’t blame it on anything, but I know what I was bringing as far as what product I was bringing into that fight after the weight cut. I just don’t want to do that anymore. I wish I would have done it much earlier.”

UFC: ‘Shogun’ Rua excited for Daniel Cormier fight opportunity

All the talk leading into this weekend has been light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier saying he will defend the title one more time before retiring in March and if Rua is impressive beating Smith, he would likely face him. 

“That’s perfect,” Smith said. “DC opened that door for me. If he wants to keep talking about “Shogun” and “Shogun” wants to keep talking about DC, that’s 100-percent fine with me. If you asked every guy that looked over me, how that worked out in the end, they will all tell you the same thing; it didn’t work out that well. That’s how this game goes. “Shogun” and DC are two big names and that’s ok. They earned it. They want to keep talking about each other, I’m fine with that. Sunday’s not that far away, so they can continue to talk about it for a couple more days and when I get in there, the topic will change.”

If Smith can defeat Rua, it would be a great way to begin his new journey in a division that is sorely lacking new challengers for the title. Cormier is on his way out, Alexander Gustafsson’s received two title shots in the past and there’s the unknown status of Jon Jones, as he awaits punishment from his second failed drug test.

“The plan wasn’t for this to be a legends ass-whipping tour,” Smith explained. “It wasn’t planned out like that but it’s definitely working out in that direction and I’m ok with that. All those guys in the UFC that have been around at the top of the division for a long time and they have all shuffled around fighting each other. I think it’s time some new blood comes in and a new face comes in and throws a wrench in everybody’s world right now.

“I think that’s where some of the pushback has come in. The fans are used to seeing the same faces. I’m just coming in and throwing everything off a bit. It’s good for the division. The fans deserve that. I know people are writing me off. And if takes an uncomfortable situation for some of those older guys to get motivated and a little more passionate, then what I’m doing is working.”