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UFC Belem interview: Anthony Smith plans to crack top-15 with win over Thiago Santos

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Finish-happy middleweight Anthony “Lionheart” Smith spoke with Bloody Elbow about Saturday’s fight with Thiago Santos in Brazil, what he’s learned from vet Joe Warren, plus his MMA goals for 2018.

After his intense knockout of Hector Lombard this past September, UFC middleweight Anthony Smith is looking to crack the top-15 with a win over the 16-5 Thiago Santos, at UFC Fight Night 125 this Saturday night. “Lionheart” has won 11 of his last 12 bouts, dusted his 3 previous opponents with incredible highlight reel knockouts, and has proven to be a cardio machine capable of turning up late in a fight. Before heading to UFC Belem in Brazil, Smith caught up with Bloody Elbow to discuss his unusually high finishing rate, training camp with Joe Warren, and plans to reside inside of the top-5 before the end of 2018.

Saturday’s UFC Belem main card will air live on FS1 at 10:00 P.M. EST with the prelims starting at 8:00 P.M. EST on the same station. The Exclusive Fight Pass prelims will begin at 7:00 P.M. EST

  • We spoke right after you KO’d Hector Lombard at UFC Fight Night 116, but now that some time has passed, how are you feeling about your performance?

“There’s a lot more positive takes than negatives. I mean that in the sense, the fight was long. I finished it at the end of the 3rd, so there were a lot of holes that I seen in my own game, that my coach picked apart for us to work on. You go out and get a fast finish, sometimes you don’t really have anything to see that you can work on. You can work it in the gym all you want; you can spar all you want, but sometimes you don’t see those mistakes come out until you’re under stress in that fight situation. I’m fortunate for that.”

  • A win is a win:

“A win’s a win, and a win in the UFC is something that’s hard to do. I think that gets lost in the shuffle a lot when it comes to media talking to fighters, or fighters talking about their performances. Winning a fight in the UFC is hard to fucking do, man. To get a win over a guy like Hector Lombard is something that I’m really proud of. It doesn’t matter what Hector it is or what anyone wants to say about it. You won’t find too many other people that have beat Hector; that’s a small list. I’m happy with it, man. I got a lot of things to work on from that and I’m ready to move on.”

  • You have an insane finishing rate, finishing 25 of your 28 wins. Do you ever catch yourself in front of a computer screen just admiring your kills?

“No man I hate watching myself fight. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand it because I just pick apart the mistakes so often. I just can never give myself a chance to enjoy it. Sometimes after the fact, it’s real cool on Instagram; people just roll the finish. So, it’s real cool to check out the finishes, but I try not to reflect too much. When you start reflecting you stop worrying about what’s in front of you. I’ve actually finished 26 of 28. I know that there’s one on there that’s like undecided on my record or something like that, but that’s also a finish.”

  • If it were me, I’d be non-stop watching them. Every morning when I wake up, one after the other.

“I don’t want to get too full of myself. i like to pride myself on being pretty grounded. Like I talk about all the time, I’m just a Midwest guy from Nebraska. I just go in, punch people in the face for money and leave and go back home with my kids. I’m not a superstar. I’m not out here hanging out with UFC fighters all the time, going to big parties with famous people. That’s not my thing.”

  • I did just see you hanging out with Joe Warren. He is in the driver seat right now:

“Haha Joe Warren is a superstar. When it comes to the mental aspect of MMA and in that grind, and really figuring out how to take people to, Joe calls it ‘the suck,’ so like take people to that suck. There’s no one better in the world that’s better at it than Joe Warren. You talk about mentality, that guy is the mentally strongest person I’ve ever met. Just being around Joe is, I don’t know man it just rubs off on you. Just being around him, his energy is so high, it just makes you want to kick people’s ass.”

  • How did you link up with Joe Warren?

“I do my training camps in Denver, Colorado so my head coach Marc Montoya, who has been Joe Warren’s coach forever. So, me and Joe are teammates and have been for the last year and a half.”

  • Your UFC debut was in Brazil; are you amped to return to the Southern Hemisphere?

“Man, I’m ready to get this monkey off my back. it’s been some time since I’ve been to Brazil, and it wasn’t so great when I got there. I’m just ready to go there and just get that monkey off my back. Leave there with a W, impress the Brazilian fans, and just do what I know that I’m capable of doing.”

  • What does the UFC cover expense-wise for their athletes travelling abroad?

“They cover all of our travel, we get a per diem, and then they fly out one coach. I think title fights, if it’s a main event or title fight I think they fly out more coaches. They pay all my expense, pay my per diem, and fly out one coach. I’ll have three coaches there so that’s on me.”

  • Considering your opponent Thiago Santos is also a proven finisher, what’s the most likely scenario for how this fight will play out?

“Likely, it’s going to be a knockout for me. I know that Thiago thinks that he’s a heavy hitter and he’s going to knock me out, or whatever, but if you had anybody that hits harder than Hector Lombard then I’d be really surprised. And I’m sure it’s not Thiago, and I took a couple of Hector’s cleanest punches. I’m ready. I’m ready for what he’s going to bring in the 1st round.”

  • The last time we spoke we talked about how your ground game is severely underrated; do you feel like the ground is your path of least resistance against Santos?

“For sure, Thiago knows that if he ends up on his back, he’s not getting up again, unless there’s like 10 seconds left in the round. If there’s any time left on the clock and Thiago Santos’ back hits the mat, he’s not getting back up. I promise you that, and he knows that. He knows exactly where his big hole is. He knows where I can take advantage of him the most, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s where I’m going to go. I think I can stand and trade with anybody. I think that that’s proven and clear.”

  • You are right there at the cusp of breaking the top-15 at middleweight; what do you think is the best way to navigate your career from here on out?

“I’ve got 2 fights left on my deal. As everyone knows, typically people like to renegotiate right before the last fight. My manager does a really great job. Jim Walter, he also manages Stipe [Miocic]. He’s been great, man. He’s been great for my career. He’s done a great job of kind of guiding me through the business part of it. So, we’ll just let Jim make the decisions for the most part, honestly. If it was up to me, I’da been at 205 already. I think letting Jim and Mark make those decisions, just takes it out of my hands. I’ve told myself, my new years resolution is to be less concerned with the stuff I can’t control.”

  • What do you want for 2018?

“My goal for 2018 is to get inside the top-5. I need to get a finish over Thiago, renegotiate my contract and get a fat check, and start fighting guys with numbers next to their names. That’s the plan.”

Watch Anthony Smith turn up with Thiago Santos at UFC Fight Night 125 this Saturday night. Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for all of your UFC event coverage including interviews, play-by-play, highlights, and more!

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