Just a few weeks ago, Hill (11-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) and Smith (36-17 MMA, 11-7 UFC) were scheduled to face each other in the main event of UFC Fight Night 221 on March 11. But then the light heavyweight division turned into chaos, and everything changed.
Magomed Ankalaev and Jan Blachowicz fought to a split draw for the vacant 205-pound belt at UFC 282 earlier this month, prompting the promotion to quickly rebook a new championship matchup between Hill and Glover Teixeira (33-8 MMA, 16-6 UFC) for the main event of UFC 283, which takes place Jan. 21 at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ABC and ESPN+.
Immediately after the change was made, Hill told MMA Junkie he was going to invite Smith to train with him for a few days becauase they’d previously formed a personal relationship. The matter seemingly was complicated, however, when “Lionheart” was confirmed to be the backup fighter for Hill vs. Teixeira at UFC 283.
Both men could’ve respectfully declined the training proposal to avoid any awkwardness, because it’s entirely possible they could end up sharing the octagon at UFC 283 or sometime beyond that. Instead they moved forward and relished the situation, with Smith traveling to Hill’s gym for multiple days of preparation.
“It’s so weird to everybody else,” Hill told MMA Junkie on Friday. “It’s not weird to us at all. If something does happen and it does end up being me and Ant, we’re going to compete, bro. It’s what we do. We’re going to go in and it’s going to be a show. We’re going to embrace afterwards and have a drink and go and get some food and talk about it and talk about the experience we just had. People take fighting outside of this as one thing – this isn’t that. We’re trying to take care of our families. We’re trying to live life the way we want to and enjoy these things.”
Smith echoed the sentiments of his new training partner. He prognosticates that his services ultimately won’t be required in Brazil, so he doesn’t see the downside in making this move.
“It’s not weird for either one of us, because I know he’s getting to the fight,” Smith said. “And I know Glover’s going to get to the fight. This is two huge opportunities for two of the top guys in the world. Unless something absolutely crazy happens, I don’t see myself being needed. I’ll be there and I’ll be on weight and I’ll be ready. I think there’s other fights where it’s been like, ‘Something might happen here.’ I don’t think this is one of those situations. But we’ll f*cking cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Any personal emotions aside, Hill’s decision to invite Smith into his training camp seems like a brilliant one from an X’s and O’s perspective. Smith fought Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 171 in May 2020 in a contest in which he started strong, but ultimately succumbed to a fifth-round TKO defeat.
Having spent more than 20 minutes in the cage with Teixeira, there’s a tremendous amount of insight Smith can pass along to Hill ahead of the upcoming matchup, and he’s leaving no stone unturned as far sharing his knowledge.
“Jamahal can already fight,” Smith said. “I’m not going to show him anything groundbreaking. It’s essentially just making him familiar so the first time he sees it isn’t when he’s in there with Glover – ’cause Glover does things a little but different and I had the same kind of shock when I was in those positions of things I wasn’t expecting, necessarily. It’s nothing crazy. It’s just making him familiar with those spots and giving him options. Just the experience.
“I’ve been in two world title fights. I’ve been in there with Jon Jones, and I guess essentially making sure he gets to enjoy the process. … If I could leave one thing that’s other than fighting here, it’s that you’ve got to step back a little bit and enjoy the process.”
For Hill, his first UFC title shot isn’t coming under the most ideal of circumstances. He was given almost six weeks of notice to prepare for the biggest fight of his life, but as UFC 283 looms closer, his focus gets stronger and his confidence grows.
“It’s been rough,” Hill said. “It’s been hard work. It’s been a grind. I was a little heavy, but me and my team, we get after it and it’s been good. It’s just work. It’s camp. It’s tough. It’s grueling. You start to appreciate it more you do things like that. (I’ll) present my best self on Jan. 21.
“Like Ant said, what he’s brought in is that: good perspective, good energy and good options. He showed me some things that if I’d felt them in a fight for the first time, it would’ve been different – just that. I’m having fun learning new things, getting a new perspective.”