2020 got off to a rough start for Anthony “Lionheart” Smith, and that’s putting it mildly. In April he was a victim of a home invasion that was something like a scene out of a movie. It resulted in the former light heavyweight title challenger having to dish out a serious beating on the intruder. The horrific ordeal described by Smith was unquestionably a traumatic situation for him and his family.
Fast forward a month later he is standing in the Octagon across from current title challenger, Glover Teixeira. A contest that had title implications, Smith started strong against the veteran. Setting a high pace and demonstrating sharp, accurate boxing and vicious leg kicks in the opening round. Smith continued to perform well in the second round up until he started to absorb some heavy blows. The tide eventually started turning, and as the fight progressed, Smith’s output began to dwindle.
By the time the fifth round came along, the fight ended up on the ground where Teixeira proceeded to pass the guard, transition to full mount, and reign down blows until the ref called a halt to the contest just over one minute into the final stanza. Marking the end of a tough outing for Smith.
Even though there was three months separating the Teixeira fight from his next contest against Aleksandar Rakić, it still felt to be a little too soon to be stepping back in the Octagon when taking into account the invasion ordeal, and the rough go against Teixeira. The fight against Rakic felt a little too soon, and a little uncomfortable from the outside looking in. Lo and behold, that fight didn’t go much better.
Hard leg kicks from Rakic from the opening bell set the precedent for the fight, and as tough as Smith is, he was seemingly taken out of the contest mentally early on. What resulted was an uninspired performance that saw Smith lose via unanimous decision.
But destined to not end 2020 as bad as it began, Smith returned to action 3 months later against Devin Clark. Only this time, all indications were that fans were getting the same Anthony Smith that they’ve seen climb the ranks to give Jon Jones one of his toughest tests to date. From the walkout to the announcement from Bruce Buffer, the body language of Smith suggested he was as ready as ever, and the subsequent performance confirmed that it was indeed the case.
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Smith secured the double underhooks on Clark and brought the fight to the ground. He proceeded to put his technical Jiu-Jitsu on display, scoring the triangle choke victory just over two minutes into the contest , winning a performance of the night bonus in the process.
Smith rode the momentum of that win right on into 2021. When he got booked to open up the main card at UFC 261 against tough-as-nails Jimmy Crute, he told the media that for this fight, fans would notice better overall movement from him. From the very beginning of the contest, it was evident improvements have been made. Smith’s boxing looked as sharp as ever and the active footwork coupled with the piston-like jab flustered Crute early. It looked like it was going to be the beginning of another stellar performance, but the fight ended prematurely due to Crute being unable to continue after the first round because of an injury sustained from the leg kicks of Smith.
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Nevertheless, it was another win on Smith’s record, and heading into this Saturday’s main event booking against Ryan Spann (19-6), Lionheart is on the cusp of making it three wins in a row. In a division that’s as wide open as it’s ever been, Smith is in a prime position to make a statement and insert himself right back into the title picture at 205. Glover Teixeira and Jan Blachowicz have business to settle next month at UFC 267, but should Lionheart earn a victory impressively on Saturday night, it could mean title shot number two in the very near future.