Anthony Smith no longer ‘blinded’ by title goal before UFC 301: ‘I’m almost carrying an anchor with me’

It’s taken more than 16 years in the fight game, but Anthony Smith thinks he’s finally learned some more effective mental prioritization methods ahead of Saturday’s fight at UFC 301.

After unsuccessfully challenging then-champ Jon Jones for the light heavyweight belt in March 2019, Smith (37-19 MMA, 12-9 UFC) has been trying to regain his position as top contender. It hasn’t been the smoothest process, because “Lionheart” is 5-5 since that fight, with his most recent bout being a third-round TKO loss to Khalil Rountree at UFC Fight Night 233 in December.

Smith is constantly pestered about his position in the title picture, but right now is probably further away than he’s been in some time. That has allowed him to mentally reset, and provided him with perspective about how his previous approach was actually to his detriment.

“It’s just blinded me,” Smith told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “I’m so obsessed with it. I had a really good conversation with Daniel Cormier earlier today, and that’s really what it was about – it consuming me. It’s good because you have to be selfish and you need to be completely dialed in to be successful at this level, but sometimes you can be so obsessed with it that it becomes a fault.

“I’m almost carrying an anchor with me. It changes the way I fight. It changes the way I think leading up to a fight. So I’m just done worrying about it. That doesn’t mean I don’t want it. I’m done consuming myself with it.”

Smith, 35, is No. 12 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie light heavyweight rankings, and is coming off three defeats in his past four fights. He will get a stiff challenge on Saturday in the form of undefeated Vitor Petrino (11-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC), with the pair set to meet on the main card at Rio Arena in Rio de Janeiro (pay-per-view, ESPN2, ESPN+).

On paper, Smith’s position looks undesirable. However, he’s not one to give up hope completely. He sees late-career wins like Michael Bisping, Glover Teixeira, Raquel Pennington, and perhaps Dustin Poirier next month at UFC 302 vs. Islam Makhachev, as examples of fighters who have found their way to gold after being written off.

Smith thinks he has that type of run in him, and said Teixeira instilled confidence in that, as well.

“I had a really cool conversation with Glover after our grappling match and we sat in Vegas, it was me, him, his wife, my wife and maybe a couple other people,” Smith said. “The four of us leaned into each other and he’s been through it, and I’m going through it where you have your ups and your downs. There was a time where Glover (Teixeira) was barely ranked in the top 10 and he gave me some pretty good advice. Even at the time I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’

“But now that I’m in it, in it, now I get what he was meaning. He just stopped worrying about the title fight and just took one at a time and poured all of himself into that one fight. After each one he reevaluated. So I focused on this fight and what I’ve got to do, and afterwards we’ll reevaluate and fix the things we’ve got to fix. We’ll see what the landscape looks like and then if we want to go again, we’ll go again.”

The first step for Smith would be to get through Petrino, who specifically called him out. He was somewhat offended when the challenge was made, but didn’t hesitate to accept. Why? Because Smith intends to use this performance to make the next wave of divisional contenders stand down when thinking of calling him out.

“Leave me alone – that’s my plan,” Smith said. “When I’m done here and on Sunday, the next young, up-and-coming 205er can pick somebody else to pick on. It’s a slight for sure. I’m not that upset about it, to be honest. It’s annoying, but I get it. I’ve been him before. I understand what he’s doing. He’s a young up-and-comer and picked an aging, broke down wounded lion in his mind. Of course he would. He thinks I’m on the downslope and I’ve got a big name and he doesn’t, so I get it. But it’s my job to prove him wrong.”

Smith said his life schedule does not go beyond Saturday night when he steps into the octagon with Petrino in front of a hostile Brazilian crowd. His ultimate goal remains the same for his career, but he said he’s now much more capable of compartmentalizing each step in a way he didn’t do before.

“If you just put enough one-at-a-times together, you’ll find yourself where you want to be at some point,” Smith said. “I’ve just got to do that – just one at a time. Win this one, and I haven’t even thought past this fight.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 301.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie