Anthony Smith never had that blue-chip label hung on him when he was a young prospect. Heck, even when the UFC light heavyweight worked his way into position to challenge Jon Jones for the title, there were howls of protests that Smith wasn’t qualified.
Though he lost a five-round decision against Jones, Smith showed that he more than belonged in the cage with Jones. Since moving to light heavyweight, Smith is 4-1, with only the loss to Jones.
But it’s who he’s beaten that makes what Smith has done so impressive. He started his streak by knocking out Hall of Famer Rashad Evans in 53 seconds. He followed that up with a first-round knockout of future Hall of Famer Mauricio “Shogun” Rua just six weeks later.
On Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN+) in the main event of a card from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, Smith will meet veteran Glover Teixeira.
Teixeira has never been submitted in a nearly 18-year career that covers 37 bouts.
Naturally, Smith wants to become the first.
“You know me,” Smith said, chuckling, when the fact that Teixeira’s long streak of not having been submitted was mentioned. “That’s actually one of my goals. He’s never been submitted so I think for me it would be a great statement to go ahead and do that.
“It’s going to take a lot of work on the feet to set it up. It’s going to be a process, but I feel like I can do it.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Smith feels he’s been able to get the kind of preparation he needs to face an elite opponent like Teixeira. He’s kept his circle of training partners small and they’ve all agreed to follow social distancing guidelines.
They spend nearly as much time cleaning the gym when they’re done as they do working out. When Smith’s manager flew in to see him, Smith declined because he didn’t want to break his vow to his team and invite someone into the circle he wasn’t certain was following all of the protocols.
He’s excited about getting back and said he has no reservations about fighting during the pandemic because of the way the UFC has handled the situation.
“I feel like I’ll be safer fighting than I would be if I were in a lot of places right now,” Smith said. “Everyone is being tested and the hotel has been shut down to regular people. So everyone who is there has been tested regularly. This is not me being a company guy. It’s me feeling like the problem has been adequately addressed and that there’s a good plan in place.”
Smith is hoping to use a good performance against Teixeira to boost his hopes for a rematch with Jones. Dominic Reyes, Thiago Santos and Jan Blachowicz are the others who are in consideration.
Reyes nearly defeated Jones when they met earlier this year, so he’s the front-runner to get the bout. Smith’s goal is to force UFC president Dana White’s hand by the way he performs.
“You know, I’m a realist and my performance against Jon, despite whatever I had going on, was not enough for me to sit here now and beg for a title shot,” he said. “I need to be dominant versus Glover and then I’m probably one fight away. If I had to pull out the crystal ball, I’d guess Dominic would get the next shout and I’ll have to deal with another monster in front of me to be after that, whether it is Thiago or Jan or whoever may emerge.
“But I have to deal with what is in front of me and Glover is a tough, tough guy. I know there are going to be eyes on us who maybe haven’t seen us before and I want to perform in a way that I make those people remember my name.”
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