Anthony Smith’s main event matchup with light heavyweight veteran Glover Teixeira on Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night 175 card in Jacksonville, Florida, will be his first sanctioned bout in almost a year.
But he had quite a fight on his hands last month.
Smith and his family were awakened about 4 a.m. by a screaming man who had entered their Nebraska home through the garage.
As his wife took their three daughters into a bedroom, Smith engaged the man he suspected of being on drugs for more than five minutes in a bloody brawl until police arrived. He said it was one of the toughest fights of his life.
After the story received national attention, Smith had to decide whether to continue to pursue his fight with Teixeira.
It turned out to be an easy decision.
“The UFC reached out and made it clear they were OK if I needed to just focus on my family, but would I really be ‘Lionheart’ if I let something like that put me in a position to back out of my responsibilities?” Smith asked. “If I say I’m going to show up, I’m going to show up. … I’m not going to let some psychopath dictate what I do and what I don’t do.”
The card will be the UFC’s second straight without fans at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena since its return amid the coronavirus pandemic. UFC 249 was held at the same arena Saturday.
The fight will be Smith’s first since a submission win over Alexander Gustafsson in June 2019. An impressive victory could put him in contention for a rematch against champion Jon Jones, Smith’s only loss in his past five fights, but he thinks he still has work to do.
“I know I didn’t have the best performance against Jon, and there’s nowhere to sit at the top of the division,” Smith said. “It’s standing room only up there. I’m going to have to earn my way back, so I think a win on Wednesday puts me in line to fight whoever doesn’t get the title shot and then a win over one of those guys absolutely puts me right back into a title shot.”
Smith added that he thinks Dominick Reyes deserves a rematch against Jones before anyone else gets their shot at the champion.
The 31-year-old said he doesn’t think the empty arena for Wednesday’s card will be much of a factor. Smith came up through the ranks fighting all over the Midwest in bars and small theaters. Four years ago, he was 30 fights into his MMA career and still working as a window installer and concrete finisher.
While he now has some stability, this fight will be a reminder of those days struggling to make it. And a chance to reflect on how far he’s come.
“It happens in really short spurts,” Smith said. “It’s kind of those dad moments. I’ll be watching my family just doing these things and thinking about how I’ve given them the opportunity to kind of live freely and do what they want. … For me, pumping gas and not looking how much it costs is a luxury. It’s little things like that.”
He can take another step up with a win Wednesday in the headliner of a card that streams entirely on ESPN Plus, with the prelims at 3 p.m. and the main card at 6.
Also on the main card, Ovince Saint Preux will make his heavyweight debut against Ben Rothwell. Former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski will highlight the preliminary card against Philipe Lins.