Tonight, red-hot light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith will headline UFC Moncton against the heavy-handed Volkan Oezdemir in New Brunswick, Canada. Smith is coming into the fight with a 30-13 record that doesn’t accurately tell the tale of his growth in the sport where he’s built his career. From his last 15 fights, he’s only experienced two losses, both at 185 pounds where he put his 6’4” frame through torturous cuts to make weight.
In the space of those 15 fights, he won two belts, defended one of them, got the call back to the UFC just over a month after winning the second one, and has hit bonus gold in the octagon three times. He’s made the move up to 205 pounds and looked sensational in both his fights there (against former champions), but the best parts of “Lionheart” aren’t only found inside the cage on fight night; they can be found in Nebraska, bouncing on a trampoline, playing youth soccer and being the apple of their daddy’s eye.
In an interview with Bloody Elbow earlier this week, Smith talked about why honesty is the best policy with his fans, who he wants to inspire, why he’s not feeling pressured to keep a second job any longer, and how he’s been treated by the UFC. Take a few moments and get to know this extraordinarily down-to-earth and mature Nebraskan.
*Special thanks to Casey Steinman for orchestrating this interview*
Anthony keeps a pinned post on his Twitter, a photo from the night of his last loss, a TKO at the hands of Thiago Santos, as a reminder that there’s always room to learn, room for growth. His unflinching honesty is refreshing in a space where silence, self-deprecation or half-hearted excuses tend to be the norm.
“To be honest, I’ve never really hidden anything. That’s kind of how my life has gone. To give you an example, everyone has been asking me what I think about Jon Jones, all his personal mistakes and all that stuff. You’re probably not going to be able to find a quote with me talking bad about Jon Jones personally—as far as the car wreck and stuff like that. I will absolutely talk about it, but I will never berate him for those things because it would only take five minutes to find that I was in a drinking and driving accident myself and ended up on life support. I’ve never hidden that for that exact reason. I don’t want anybody to think they have something on me. If you just put it all out there, then no one can hold it over you. That’s kind of how I’ve tried to live my life, in general.”
Reaching the Downtrodden
Smith makes no bones about his record or his personal struggles in life. His hopes are to be an inspiration to others that have experienced life’s trials and tribulations, the ones who, like him, haven’t had a smooth road to success.
“My career has been pretty up and down. I’ve had a lot of struggles and I’ve been through a lot of bullshit. So far, I’ve been able to come out on the good side of it all. It’s really easy to see someone that’s successful and say, ‘I want what they have. I want to be able to do what they do,’ but those people aren’t the ones I’m trying to reach or inspire. I want the downtrodden guys, the down-and-out guys that have been ignored; the ones that can identify with me, ‘Well he was like me at one point in time. If he can do it, I can do it.’
I don’t really fit the mold of someone that’s going to be motivating a bunch of collegiate athletes or Olympic hopefuls—people that have done everything the right way without mistakes. They don’t need someone like me. It’s the people that were like me that need me. There’s lots of guys out there that have losses or think that they’re not going to make it, or they have a bad personal record or whatever. Those are the ones that I want to reach, those are the ones that identify with me.”
Feeling needed can be a burden to some, but for Smith, it’s the motivation he thrives on. It’s his reason to keep going in the face of adversity. He made a promise to his fiancée several years ago, and it’s one he plans to honor.
“A lot of what motivates me is my family. […] When I started having kids, it really brought out who I was as a person. And that’s not saying that I didn’t make mistakes after that, because I did, but I think I just needed someone to need me, and I really thrive off that. In this sport, it’s really easy to look for a way out.
Chael Sonnen said something that stuck with me, ‘You always hear everyone say that quitting is never an option,’ and it never made any sense to me at all, and he said, ‘Quitting is always the most available option. It’s the first thing that comes to your mind. You need to find a reason to stay.’ For me, it’s my family—my kids, my fiancée.
When I met my fiancée, I wasn’t doing that well in my career, but I remember telling her, ‘I’m going to be a world champion someday and our lives are going to be so much different, so much better,’ and she never once questioned it. She had no idea what the UFC was or what MMA was, but she never once questioned me, so at this point, I owe it to her and my kids to do what I said I was going to do.”
Job security is a top priority for just about every adult on the planet, but maintaining a solid financial state can be daunting, especially for sports figures that get paid in large lump sums. Anthony kept a second job throughout his whole career up until 22 months ago when he finally felt secure enough to let it go.
“I worked as a concrete finisher until I fought Elvis Mutapcic in December of 2016. I live in Nebraska where the winters are pretty harsh, so in the winter time, you just get laid off, and I had been laid off that winter. I fought Elvis, got the bonus, and never went back.
I don’t have that feeling that I’ve got to keep a second job in case the floor crumbles beneath me because I’m not stupid with my finances. I live a small town lifestyle; I’m not out here driving Range Rovers and crazy shit like that. I spend the vast majority of my time with my family. My lifestyle isn’t really any different than it was when I was working. If I quit fighting and had to go back to doing concrete, my lifestyle wouldn’t change. I wouldn’t have to start trading our vehicles in to get cheaper ones or live in a different house.
I made pretty good money being a concrete finisher and I could support my family on that if I had to go back to it. I probably wouldn’t take as many trips, that’s about the only thing that would change. I don’t hang out with UFC fighters, I don’t hang out with famous people. It’s not my thing. The majority of my time is spent with the neighbors in the driveway with all of our kids playing in the yard or jumping on the trampoline. It’s total slow motion for me.”
UFC Treatment & Negotiations
It goes without saying that the UFC could stand to pay all of its roster better, but some fighters seem to have a very good handle on how to get things accomplished, and Smith is one of them.
“Things are going well, and as much as people like to talk about the UFC’s pay structure, they’ve taken very good care of me. Maybe I’ve had a different experience than other fighters, but if I have an issue that needs to be tended to, then me and my manager sit down and have a conversation.
Everyone wants to negotiate through social media and all this other bullshit. It’s a conference call; find a time where you, your manager and the UFC can get on the phone and figure out what the problem is and work toward fixing it. Obviously, I want to make as much money as I can make, and they want to pay me as little as they can. That’s their job, that’s business. That’s how the world goes around, and I think some guys forget that.”
Anthony Smith vs. Volkan Oezdemir will headline UFC Fight Night 138 tonight at the Avenir Centre in Moncton, New Brunswick on FS1. The main card starts at 9 PM Eastern. Catch all our UFC Moncton coverage right here.