UFC light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith is one of the few challengers to shy away from personal attacks before fighting beleaguered champion Jon Jones.
While Smith insists he’s never been much of a strategist, there’s no question his lack of oral jabs is by design.
“It’s low-hanging fruit, for sure,” Smith said. “But it’s just a distraction. I know that if I’m worried about what Jon Jones is doing on Saturday and Sunday, I’m not focused on what he’s doing on Monday through Friday to get ready for the weekend. I don’t care what he does in his personal life, I don’t care what his relationship is like, I don’t care how much partying he does or if he drives (drunk).
“Those other guys got so blinded by their hate for him that they just couldn’t see past it to see how good he is as an athlete.”
Smith will challenge Jones for his title in the main event of UFC 235 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, but oddsmakers don’t give him much of a chance. Smith probably will enter the octagon as at least a 6-1 underdog.
But the 30-year-old has overcome longer odds to make it to this point. A high school dropout raised by a single mother in small-town Nebraska City, Smith fought in strip clubs and barns to pick up extra money after spending his days as a concrete finisher.
Smith showed flashes of greatness but was inconsistent in starting his career 5-6. He admits he was more concerned with having a good time then, which explains why he’s reluctant to criticize Jones.
“What kind of person would I be to be standing in a glasshouse throwing stones?” Smith said. “I’m not going to chastise Jon Jones for doing things I used to do. I’ve said several times this week that 10 years ago Jon Jones is someone I would have loved to hang out with. That’s just not my life anymore. It’s not who I am. I think we all change over time. He’ll deal with his problems when he wants to on his own time.”
For Smith, that time came when he became a father. He and his wife welcomed their first of three daughters in 2011 and life has been different since. So has his career.
“I think once someone needed me, it put everything into perspective for me and forced me to grow up,” he said. “It just changed who I was as a person. That definitely benefited my fight career. Now I have mouths to feed and people to support.”
Smith started getting better results and eventually made it to the UFC for one fight in 2013. He lost when he was injured defending a submission attempt and was released from his contract.
He returned to the regional circuit before re-signing with the UFC in 2016 and has won 14 of his past 16 fights, including victories over former champions Rashad Evans and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and contender Volkan Oezdemir.
“I’ve had my struggles and my hard times,” Smith said. “I think the fans can feel that, too. I think that’s why people are excited for this fight. I’m never going to fault a guy for having a ton of natural ability. Jon was just born good at this. I’m not saying he hasn’t worked hard, but he’s just a natural. I don’t think the average person can relate to that. That’s not how the world is for most people. I think that’s why people are drawn to me, because I’m just a regular person.”
Main card bouts Saturday at T-Mobile Arena:
— Jon Jones (23-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Anthony Smith (31-13), for Jones’ light heavyweight title
— Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) vs. Kamaru Usman (14-1), for Woodley’s welterweight title
— Robbie Lawler (28-12) vs. Ben Askren (18-0, 1 No Contest), welterweights
— Tecia Torres (10-3) vs. Weili Zhang (18-1), women’s strawweights
— Cody Garbrandt (11-2) vs. Pedro Munhoz (17-3, 1 No Contest), bantamweights