UFC's Anthony Smith talks MMA longevity, dishes advice for younger fighters

MMA veteran Anthony "Lionheart" Smith looks back on his 51-fight career and breaks down how he's been able to stay in the game so long. The former UFC light heavyweight title challenger faces Ryan Spann on Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 37.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey folks. I am Kevin Iole and thank you for joining me at Yahoo Sports. My guest now is becoming a familiar face. It seems like every couple of months you turn around, this man is in a main event on a UFC card. This guy, and my first question is going to be about that. Anthony Smith, Anthony, how are you, my friend?

ANTHONY SMITH: I'm good. I'm just hanging out here in Quarantine Inn in lovely Las Vegas. You got to love it. Well, we're going to get you out on the golf course in lovely Las Vegas here before much longer. You are fighting Ryan Spann in the main event on Saturday over at Apex which should be a really fun fight.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to start with you with this. You have been 51 pro fights over 13 years, so basically it's your 52nd. You are averaging four fights a year. What is the wear and tear on your body after that many fights? You don't see a lot of MMA fighters, 50 plus fights and you're still going strong. What's the wear and tear on your body like with that?

ANTHONY SMITH: You know it's much better now to be honest with you than it was earlier on in my career. A lot of those fights were-- you know, I was fighting once a month. You know I mean, I think if you go back and you look at a couple of those years, there's probably times I fought six or eight times that year.

So I was fighting every other month. I was banged up. I wasn't making money and I was still having to go in injured. And it was real bad there for a while. But I have the time in between fights now to heal up.

The PI has been instrumental in keeping me healthy. I had a really good team at home that take really good care of me. So like everybody, I'm banged up a little bit, but not nearly as bad as you would think.

KEVIN IOLE: Do you think, you hear, in team sports they talk about the scouts, if you're a good player, they'll find you. Do you think in MMA that there are some fighters that are good enough to be competing at the highest level and be successful at the highest level, not that they're not getting found, but they're not getting the opportunity because you know what the toll the sport takes on the body, not just the fights. But I know you guys go harder than just about anybody in training.

ANTHONY SMITH: I do. I do. You know, I've actually said this a bunch of times that some of the best guys that I've ever encountered or trained with or drilled with or whatever are guys that have losing records, or guys that for whatever reason can't stay healthy or financially can't make the sacrifice, whether they have families or just can't make it work. And have to go off and get jobs and never compete again. Or guys that get clipped in the gym in a hard training session.

They're three and zero and the next thing you know, they've lost four in a row by knockout. And you never see them again. So, yeah, this, I think, is one of the odd sports where some of the best guys in the world that have ever been around are not the champions or guys that maybe have never even been in the UFC before.

KEVIN IOLE: Very interesting you know you're a guy that kind of has risen that path. I mean you weren't a guy that came in like a blue chip, like you weren't an NCAA Division I All-American superstar or Olympic wrestler or anything that people were talking about coming into the sport.

And you had to work your way up as you referenced all those times that you fought. How many times on the way up did you doubt yourself and did you think about quitting because, hey, this isn't worth, hey, I'm making nothing here. Did you ever have those times?

ANTHONY SMITH: Not ever seriously. But there has been there's been times, like after I got cut from the UFC, where it's just like, man, like it took me all this time to get here. I got one shot at it. And here I am back fighting in Victory in Council Bluffs, Iowa. You know, like, yeah, damn.

It's just a long road, you know. I feel like I'm like the guy from Shawshank Redemption. Like I just have this little tiny hammer and I just been chipping away at it. And eventually, you know I'll get to the light at the end of the tunnel.

KEVIN IOLE: You remember when you fought Jon Jones a couple of years ago for the title. There was a lot of people saying why is Anthony Smith getting you getting this shot? I think you proved yourself in the loss in that fight. And subsequently now, you've proven that you're one of the top guys.

And so I think this fight with Ryan Spann is interesting. Is he where you were a couple of years ago? Like you know, I mean, there's a lot of similarities. He fought a lot on the regional circuit. And it comes in, you're both similar height, similar-- I guess he's got a bigger reach than you

But you know a lot of similarities in your styles and everything like that. Do you think you see some of yourself in him in terms of a couple of years ago where you were where he is now?

ANTHONY SMITH: Yeah, in positioning, you know, kind of where he sits in the world right now, for sure. As far as, you know, technically and x's and o's and kind of looking at it black and white, I think we're vastly different. But as far as where he is and the opportunity that he's getting, I think so.

I think there are some similarities. But that's kind of always been my plan. You know, I remember having these conversations with media guys and just saying, I just wish someone would give me a shot. Like, I wish I could get one guy to say, yes. And eventually, you know like Shogun was that guy.

You know, like Rashad was kind of, obviously Rashad is a Hall of Famer, a former champion. But he was in a different position. You know, he wasn't in a position to really call his shot at that time. He just kind of had to-- if he wanted to fight, he had to fight who they gave him.

Shogun wasn't in that position. He didn't have to fight me. He could have just-- he could have waited until a better opportunity came up. And it's not like he needed the money. He was getting close to a title shot. But it took all that time for that one guy to finally give me the shot. And I don't want to be that guy.

So I wasn't really in a position to ask for anything after I kind of slipped on a banana peel a couple of times. So I mean, how many times have you heard me say it I'll fight anyone, any time, any place. That didn't come with a caveat.

And like any time, anywhere, you know, anyone, except if they're not ranked high enough, or except if it's not a bad match up. Or you know what I mean, like, I've always lived that. And I think a lot of people say it and not a lot of people mean it.

So you know, I hope that later on in my career that people look back and say you know m Anthony really lived by that code and he gave those opportunities. And when guys like Ryan Spann or Jimmy Crute or Devin Clark say, you know, well, no one ever gave me a shot. Like, I don't want to be one of those guys they lump into there. Because I'll give it to you. Like all you got to do is say my name, I'm there.

KEVIN IOLE: You know you mentioned Jimmy Crute. That was your last fight. And unfortunately he got injured in that fight. And I thought you showed a lot of class in the way you dealt with him afterwards. But you almost were like mentoring him to a certain degree.

And I'm sure you understood what was going through his mind. You know you were the biggest shot of his career and then he gets injured and can't really continue the fight. What did you try to say and what was your thought process as you went up to him? And you know the way you dealt with him?

ANTHONY SMITH: Well, I could see the disappointment in his face. And I could see the nervousness before the fight. He didn't do a very good job of hiding it, especially right before we walked out. And then once we were in the cage, he was very different than he was kind of fight week.

The things he was saying during the week weren't matching the face that I was looking at. So that, coupled with the look on his face when he lost. And you could tell he was trying to hide how disappointed he was. And like, you got to just kind of feel that.

You just got to let it happen and instead of hiding it, trying to hold it in, it's going to eat you up. And then it's going to come out later in a negative way. So I just wanted him to know that. I care. You know what I mean?

Like I've been him before. I know how bad that sucks. And I think I told him when we were kneeling in the cage, that I wish that I was half as good as he is now what I was his age.

KEVIN IOLE: Wow.

ANTHONY SMITH: Because he's way ahead of where I. Was so and all these younger guys are. I'm just now getting good. So, I just wanted him to keep his head up. And I know in this sport that people, its fans and it's some of the media guys. And you're different because you're cut from a different cloth and come from a different generation.

But you know, the media will just act like one loss, it's like the end of the world and you're just like you're the worst guy in the world. But like, you know, you look at basketball and you look at football. And you look at hockey and baseball, those guys lose all the time.

Tom Brady has lots of losses. Michael Jordan had lots of losses. Like, even if we're not talking about the greatest ever. You know like just talk about middle of the road. You know, basketball players have hundreds of losses. Like one loss in a sport doesn't define you. It's what you do afterwards.

And I wanted Jimmy to know that. Like, ignore what all these idiots say. Don't look at your social media. Like ignore the media. Like just get back on the horse. Get healed and you'll be back.

KEVIN IOLE: Do you bring that attitude, you know, you're carving out a really nice niche for yourself as an analyst on some of the UFC broadcasts. Do you try to bring that attitude toward, like that empathy I guess is what I would call it, toward your announcing duties.

ANTHONY SMITH: I try to. I try to. Because we you've got to be super excited about the winner. And you've got to get the viewer-- you've got to get the viewer, you know, you've got to bring them in and explain to them kind of like how this whole landscape works.

And I think sometimes we forget like, we were really high on Jairzinho Rozenstruik last time I worked one of his fights. But we never talked about, like, he'd just gotten you know stone cold slept, you know, like the fight before, the fight before that. I don't know, man, like we don't talk about it on the post show. Like, we're just talking about what they do well and their wins.

And there's a lot of times where I work an event, a guy will get absolutely demolished, just because the match-up was bad or he had a bad night or he got caught or whatever. And then next thing you know, we're singing his praises three months later. So the flip happens so quickly, just one win and one loss just changes everything vastly.

So I do try to remind people. Like, it's just one. It's just one. Like people can come back from that. And I think that sometimes when we see guys go on losing streaks, I think sometimes it's less about their abilities. And I think sometimes it's more about the perception and how they perceive themselves because of the people that are around them.

KEVIN IOLE: What reaction do you get from other athletes that you meet, successful athletes in other sports? You know, I know guys in other sports are big fans of MMA and they watch you guys. And I see a lot of them talking. I mean, I can't believe what they do, et cetera, et cetera. You know, what interactions do you have with some successful athletes from outside of the fight game?

ANTHONY SMITH: With my experience I think that other sports athletes relate with me better than they do a lot of fighters. Because I think my story is very similar to a lot of theirs. Like, there's a lot of struggles and they've had really bad seasons where, you know, like in Jacksonville. I got a buddy that's a really big Jags fan.

So we happen to be at the host hotel and Gardner Minshew and then there's a former Husker player that was there. So we connected there and we just hung out with a bunch of the Jags. And I feel like they can connect better with me than they can a lot of other fighters.

Because they had a one win season. And now they're trying to grind back from that. And they've had their ups and they've had their downs. They had great games and they've been blown out. And I think that they can appreciate that a little better than kind of looking at other fighters who only got one loss.

And so, I guess that's been my experience is, they get it. They get it because they do it every single season. They go they're ups and downs. And sometimes they win the big one and sometimes they don't. But they still show up for training camp the next season. And I think that that's the part that gets missed sometimes in our sport.

KEVIN IOLE: What can you learn from somebody like Gardner Minshew? You mentioned him. He just got traded to the Eagles. But you know, a guy like I described yourself, you know, not the blue chipper coming into the NFL. And you know, made it as a starting quarterback, and you know, is going good. What can you learn from a guy like that?

ANTHONY SMITH: Yeah, I think more from a guy like Gardner?

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

ANTHONY SMITH: Is more just keep doing what I'm doing. Because you're 100% right. He wasn't the number one draft pick. He wasn't the guy that everyone was drooling over to see him go into the NFL.

So I think that's more just validation that as long as I just keep doing the same thing I'm doing and keep pushing forward, you can't get too down on yourself. But I think Gardner, he does a good job in not getting to too high on himself either. His sense of humor is very cool he's very kind of self-deprecating a little bit, you know.

Like he can joke with himself and crack jokes on himself and talk about bad games or bad series or you know, when he got blown up and didn't know where he was. You know, he's good about joking about that stuff. But it sounds like it's just humor. But it's kind of like our way of dealing with it.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Yeah, you just got to laugh at yourself a little bit and that makes it easier to get over. So I think he does a good job of kind of making a joke about some of his doubts.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to wrap up by asking you something I talked to Darren Till about a couple of weeks ago. And it's like I think this maybe applies to you too since you fought for the title already. I said to him, you know, he had a similar path to a large degree as Bisping. You know, you know Bisping went out there and a lot of people said, he's not good enough to win the title.

And he stuck with it, stuck with it, stuck with it, overcame, and finally got his shot. And I wonder if you feel like that applies to you too? When you look at Mike as a guy that you sort of know inspiration for you in the sense that there are similarities between you and him in terms of your struggles in your career? And yet he went out and got all the way up to the top.

ANTHONY SMITH: You know, I've actually had this conversation with Bisping before. He gives me a lot of motivation. Just his, you know I love watching, you know, I love his story. The movie they did on him was fantastic. I think one of my funnest or at least more motivating kind of Michael Bisping moments is on that movie when they go to the part where he gets hit with that knee from Anderson, and they got Jason Perillo who's kind of narrating the whole situation.

And kind of what happened and Bisping's out of it. And he's hurt and everyone thought he's done. Like that's it. I feel like that Michael Bisping moment is kind of like my entire career culminated in that one moment. Like everyone thinks he's done. Everyone thinks he's down and out.

And like goddamn it, just pull yourself back on the stool and let's get off of this goddamn thing and figure it out. And I think like, just talking about it gives me the chills of just watching how he just kind of turned it back on. And just like the lights came back on. And he just slowly kept chipping away at Anderson.

I think that like that's kind of my career, kind of just molded into a moment. At least that's how I look at it. Because I'd like to think if something like that happened to me, that I'd be able to do the same thing that Bisping did. And if my career goes just like that and I end up getting into a title shot in a not favorable position and winning it, and I sail off, like that would be the perfect story for me.

KEVIN IOLE: Awesome. Well, we always appreciate talking to you and watching your fight. No doubt, fight of the night or performance of the night and fight of the night. You're a good guy to watch fight. Anthony, we appreciate it, good luck on Saturday against Ryan Spann.

ANTHONY SMITH: Thanks, man, take it easy.

KEVIN IOLE: Thanks, brother.