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Antony Smith defeated Ryan Spann at UFC Vegas 37

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Editorial: The ballad of Anthony Smith

Don’t doubt Anthony Smith.

Antony Smith defeated Ryan Spann at UFC Vegas 37
| Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Toiling away. It’s not like working in a mine or anything like that, but the work is hard. The pay is low. The scars are real. The wear on the body is immense. I don’t even want to think about the toll on the brain, let alone the cognitive decline that’s likely to come later in life. The job is not really a job. You can quit a job. But what he does? That feels like a calling. To him, it’s more than an occupation.

Thirteen years. He got involved on a whim. He thought, “You know what? I can probably do that,” and tried it. Two years in, he had a record of 5-6 and had lost four in a row. All of those losses came by stoppage. He could have quit. He could have done something more reasonable. Something that offered more than hope. Anything. He didn’t. He kept toiling.

Things turned around in 2010. He fought 15 times between March 2010 and August 2012 and went 13-2. None of those fights went the distance. Hell, none of his career fights, which numbered 26 by then, had gone the distance.

And then, a bad run. Three straight losses. One in Strikeforce. One in UFC. One in Victory FC. All submission setbacks.

Five years into it. Five years, maybe wasted. He had a daughter by then. Maybe it was time to think about a career change or at least a different job. Nope, back to toiling away.

Seven fights with five different promotions followed and so did the birth of a second daughter. He even went the distance in one of those fights. Two championships came during that stretch — the Cage Fury Fight Championship belt and the Victory FC crown.

Strikeforce Challengers: Voelker v Bowling III
Anthony Smith delivers a knockout punch against Ben Lagman on July 22, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images

And then the break. The UFC called and decided it was time to give him another shot. He won that fight, but lost his next outing. Doubt? Yeah, maybe that crawled into his head, but he didn’t let it linger or at least he pushed it down enough so it didn’t surface publicly.

Then a run of 6-1 and a move to 205 pounds. He made some extra scratch as well. Which was good. A third daughter was born in 2018. The $200,000 in fight-night bonuses surely came in handy for the family as he prepared to fight for the UFC light heavyweight title.

He lost that fight. He could have won. Hit with an illegal knee, he could have said, “I’m done” and he would have been handed the UFC light heavyweight title, but no. Forty-six fights into his career, he didn’t want to win on a technicality. The sportsman in him wouldn’t allow him to bow out. He fought on and he lost by decision. But he went 25 minutes with a man who might go down in history as the greatest MMA fighter of all time. A victory? Maybe to some, but not to him.

The next three fights were okay, but he went 1-2 and he heard the doubts from the media, fans and other fighters. Still, he toiled on.

He won his next three fights. All by stoppage. All in the first round. He earned two more fight-night bonuses. His patience with the doubters boiled over in the aftermath of his most recent win. He lashed out at his opponent — but it was more like he was standing there and daring those who had written him off to doubt him some more. No one answered his challenge.

Now, 52 fights into his career, he might be one fight away from a second shot at UFC gold and if you don’t give him a chance to secure that title, you’re a fool.

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