Seeking second shot at his dream, ‘Lionheart’ Anthony Smith sets off to scale UFC peak

Smith talks to Sportstar about his comeback to the octagon after a leg injury, his thoughts about opponent Johnny Walker and his chances at the title. 

Published : May 13, 2023 16:39 IST , CHENNAI - 5 MINS READ

Anthony Smith at the weigh in ahead of his fight against Johnny Walker.
Anthony Smith at the weigh in ahead of his fight against Johnny Walker. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Anthony Smith at the weigh in ahead of his fight against Johnny Walker. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Anthony Smith of America will try to get closer to his dream of becoming the world champion in the light heavyweight category when he faces Johnny Walker of Brazil in the UFC fight night at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday. 

Ranked fifth in the category, Smith came close to the title in 2019 but lost against Jon Jones in the championship bout. 

Introduced to the basics of mixed martial arts at a young age, Smith turned pro in 2008, when he was only 19. 

The 34-year-old from Ohama, Nebraska is one of the most experienced fighters in the UFC, having competed in over 50 fights.

Smith, nicknamed ‘Lionheart’, holds a 36-17-0 (W-L-D) record in the MMA. In UFC, he’s won 11 out of his 18 fights.

Given that both Smith and his opponent Walker are among the top 10 fighters in the light heavyweight division, the fight will be significant in terms of the ranking in the division. 

A win for anyone would give them the opportunity to challenge titleholder Jamahal Hill or to face Glover Teixeira, the other top-ranked fighter.

In an exclusive interaction with  Sportstar, Smith reveals his thoughts about the match-up, chances at the title and training regime. 

Q. How important is your next bout on Saturday, considering that you will step in the cage after almost a year’s gap and are coming on the back of a loss?

A. Yeah, it’s important to get back on track, especially after being off for so long and returning after the year I’ve had. So I’m just excited to get back to my winning ways. I’m doing what I love. I’m fortunate to have been able to recover from that injury and return, and the title race is currently wide open. So, I have a huge opportunity here to put myself in a great position to fight for a title shot or a fight against a top contender. 

Q. You will be facing Walker of Brazil. After a string of losses from 2019 to 2022, Walker seems to have gotten back to his groove. He is coming off back-to-back victories. What are your initial thoughts about the match-up?

A. He’s a phenomenal athlete who has built his game around his physical abilities. He’s explosive, strong, and athletic. He is also very creative, and fearless. He’s not afraid to jump into the fire and get out and do some crazy stuff. So, yeah, he’s a big task. It’s a big problem, and I’ll have to figure out how to deal with it on Saturday. 

Q. Going only by statistics, Walker has won about 84 per cent of his bouts through knockouts compared to your 53 per cent. Inside the cage, he seems to be the more aggressive fighter, how do you view your opponent stylistically?

A. He is, without a doubt, a finisher. He’s not typically a guy that you see going for decisions (by referees). I believe that has a lot to do with his approach. He is very aggressive and always looking for a finish (knock out), but this gets him into trouble and puts him in dangerous situations. So, it’s a major issue to deal with.

Q. You fought the championship bout against Jon Jones in 2019. You are ranked fifth in the light heavyweight division as of now. Does that experience help in this fight?

A. I think it’s just a bunch of good experiences. I’ve already seen the peak of the mountain. That’s how it appears to me. I faced numerous former champions and title challengers. I’ve fought big, long, creative guys before. I believe that will help me in this fight. I’ve been in there with John Jones, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, Aleksandar Rakic, and a lot of other good guys. So, Walker isn’t going to do anything that will surprise me. 

Q. Speaking about your fights, what does your preparation look like before the bout? How do you prepare yourself physically, mentally? How do you train yourself? 

A. So, I take all of the thinking out of it and delegate it to my coaches and team at Factory X in Denver, Colorado. I got my longtime coaches at home. I’m in this conditioning camp for 10 or 11 weeks. Training with the team and being at altitude pushed my strength and conditioning to the limit. Those were the difficult days. I’m mentally preparing myself for the worst-case scenario and figuring out what that looks like and how we deal with it if it happens. 

Q. How would you approach a fight? Do you tend to work on some last-minute skills, or do you like to stick to your daily routines, even before fights? What does your preparation look like before the bout?

A. I’m a creature of routine. So, the schedule is the same every time, but the things we work on change with each fight. What we work on, how we approach training camp and the skills we work on change depending on who we fight. So, we have to recognise where our opponents are strong, where their weaknesses are, how we navigate away from the problems and into the better parts of the fights, and then just try to close the gaps in my weaknesses and build on my strength. Every training camp looks to be very similar. However, the content of those sessions is different. 

Q. What are your plans from here on? 

A. I intend to compete for a world title. And then I’ll go try to win one of those gleaming gold belts, which I’ll then defend until I lose it. Then I’ll set sail in the sunset. But my immediate plans are to make weight on Friday and then go in there and do everything I can to beat Walker. 

*Watch the LIVE coverage of UFC Fight Night - Rozenstruik vs Almeida on Sony Sports Ten 2, Sony Sports Ten 3 (Hindi) & Sony Sports Ten 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels at 12:30 am IST on 14th May 2023

Anthony Smith - Stats
Age: 34 years
Heigh: 6’ 3”
Weight: 93 kg
Reach: 6’ 4”
Stance: Orthodox
Record: 36-17-0
Knockout wins: 19
Submission wins: 14
Last five results: L-W-W-W-L
UFC debut: August 19, 2012
MMA debut: February 29, 2008
Johnny Walker - Stats
Age: 31
Heigh: 6’ 5”
Weight: 93 kg
Reach: 6’ 7”
Stance: Southpaw
Record: 20-7-0
Knockout wins: 16
Submission wins: 2
Last five results: W-W-L-L-W
UFC debut: November 17, 2018
MMA debut: December 14, 2013
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