Mixed martial arts is such a finicky sport. On one hand, you have fighters who try to pick and choose who they get to fight from the perspective of some kind of low-rent diva. On the other hand, you have guys who work their asses off and make serious sacrifices to fight anyone the promoter will put in front of them. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith is very much the latter.
To call the 29-year-old Smith a veteran is an understatement. He has spent time with three major camps. He has 39 professional fights, with only three going to decision, and has winning records across the UFC, Bellator, Cage Fury FC, the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and Victory FC.
Smith is the father of three. He has been through his own trials and tribulations. In the true heart of a lion, he has never backed down from a challenge. Smith may not have wanted to blast through seven quality opponents on the regional circuit to get back to the UFC, but he did. He may not have wanted to kick off his current UFC run against Leonardo Guimaraes, but he did, and that win led to the winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.
While that fight didn’t go his way, he finally got to settle the score with fellow Midwestern talent Elvis Mutapcic. It was icing on the cake that the fight finally happened in the Octagon.
For Smith’s last outing, he was handed winner of TUF 23, Andrew Sanchez, whom Smith disposed of in the third round of UFC on Fox 24 in April. The Nebraska native hasn’t asked for anything, but he has worked hard. His hard work has finally paid off, too.
On Saturday night, at UFC Fight Night 116 in Pittsburgh, Smith will face one of his biggest named opponents to date, Hector Lombard. Lombard is coming off an overturned win due to performance-enhancing drugs, followed by three losses in a row. The Cuban Olympic judoka has had a long and storied career of his own, and he once went 25 fights in a row without a single loss, a run that included multiple middleweight title wins and defenses. However, since entering the UFC, the once highly touted competitor has gone 3-5-1 in the last five years. Smith is happy to have the name.
“To be honest with you, I was surprised,” Smith told Combat Press. “He wasn’t really who I was looking for, but I was happy. I was thinking they would give Hector an easier fight. I’m partially surprised that Hector took it. He’s a bigger name, and I know he was trying to call out Vitor [Belfort] and [Chris] Weidman and a whole slew of other guys who also have big names. I was surprised that he took the fight.
“That is something I’ve been running into a lot — guys don’t want to fight me, because they look at me as a no-name. They look at me, I guess, as a no-name that is also a tough fight. If you have a name, then, of course, you’re going to want to fight guys that also have names, because if you take a loss, it doesn’t look as bad. I know he was trying to fight Rashad [Evans]. He was trying to fight anybody but me.”
With a dismal record in recent years and a 40th birthday on the horizon, Lombard is not in any position to be calling out anybody. In fact, in Smith’s eyes, this is actually a good match-up for the Cuban fighter.
“I think that Hector is the worst match-up for me in the entire division,” Smith said. “In the past, I’ve struggled with strong, stocky brawlers. I wouldn’t say struggle, but those guys give me a little bit more problems than everybody else. Yet, I still think that I will walk right through him. I just think I’m on another level than a lot of these guys, and I just keep getting better and better and better. The Andrew Sanchez fight was my second-worst performance. Better, but I still fuckin’ knocked him out. He was a guy that won The Ultimate Fighter at 205 [pounds].”
Obviously, Smith was not terribly happy with his performance over Sanchez. It was a fight he was calling for when Sanchez was the RFA champ, so he was excited when he got the call to face him in Kansas City.
“Sanchez did one thing really well,” Smith admitted. “He was able to hide his takedown with an overhand. The beginning of his overhand right and the beginning of his takedown looked exactly the same. It took me all the way until the third round to figure out the distinguishing things between those two techniques.”
While Sanchez may have brought some surprises, he is still relatively young to the sport. That is not the case with Lombard. Smith, and just about everyone else, knows exactly what Lombard brings to the table. Smith’s camp at Factory X Muay Thai in Englewood, Colo., has been all about the specifics.
“I’m just focused on the things that Hector’s good at, just as far as his sprinting and him being wild and powerful,” Smith said. “I think, technically, I’ve been light years ahead of Hector for a very long time, so I don’t think [technique] is the biggest issue. It’s just that game-planning around his style. We have a couple guys that are really good looks for fighting Hector. Austin [Jones] does a really good job of fighting southpaw, and he’s about the same size as Hector. He’s a little bit taller. We’ve been bringing in Gilbert Smith, too, who’s pretty close to Hector. He’s short, stocky, and has a similar style.”
One of the biggest sacrifices Smith has made for his last couple fights is training at Factory X in the Denver area, while still maintaining his family and residence in Omaha, Neb. He still maintains his primary coach in Omaha, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Scott Morton, and he trains with Morton on the weekends when he’s home. However, every Monday, by car or plane, he is traveling out to Denver. It is a grind and sacrifice that he is willing to make, and his fiancé Mikhala supports him 100 percent of the way.
“It’s tough,” said the father of three. “It’s a sacrifice, for sure, and she does it better than anybody. Her mom helps a lot. Her mom’s there and is able to help out, but it’s a struggle. There’s nights when I’m on the phone with her, and she’s just done. She needs a break. That’s what helps with the weekends. I’m home on the weekends to help her, and that’s what gives her a little bit of a break to get through it.”
Training in Colorado is tough as well, but Smith embraces it with open arms. He does his primary work at Factory X with coaches Marc Montoya and Mario “Busy” Correia, and his strength and conditioning is handled by Loren Landow at Landow Performance.
Lombard has a losing record in the UFC and asks for big-name opponents. Smith is keeping his head down, working his ass off, and making his way through the UFC middleweight ranks. Lombard has popped positive for PEDs in the past. Smith is one of the outspoken opponents of PED usage in fighting. One comes off as a diva, whereas the other is a workhorse. They clash on the main card at UFC Fight Night 116 at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“Nobody has done to Hector what I’m about to do to Hector,” said Smith. “If people think the Dan Henderson fight was a brutal finish, they have no fucking idea what they’re about to see. I know him so intimately, it’s like I actually know him. I know every single thing he does. I know what he brings to the table
“I can’t imagine that they’re not going to get me on one more time this year. I really want to get a quick turnaround in December. I plan on viciously finishing Hector and asking for a fight in December. I’m willing to take fights at 205 as well. I’m more than big enough, and I have the frame.”