Weight-cutting has always been a very polarizing topic. Most wrestlers will laugh at people who bitch about it. If you could ask the men who have died from cutting weight, they may not find it so funny. However, it is a necessary evil of the sport. Or, is it?
When wrestlers think of cutting weight, they think of a time when they were in their teens, burning a ton of calories with a high metabolism, peaking on natural testosterone, and training purely in grappling. When a wrestler gets into his mid-to-late 20s, the testosterone starts to drop, the metabolism slows, and it gets tougher to drop weight. As they transition into MMA, striking becomes a major component, because getting hit takes something out of them that they do not experience in pure wrestling. It is also a different type of cardio, which can turn into a long series of grinding bursts of energy.
There are countless examples of MMA fighters moving up in weight classes in recent years because of this. Some athletes were starting to realize that the size advantage of cutting a ton of weight does not make up for the less-than-ideal physical condition they have put themselves in.
Anthony Smith’s last outing was at UFC Fight Night 125 in February, when he faced Thiago Santos. Smith is known for grinding very hard in his camps and being tough as hell to train against. However, in some of his recent performances, he looked slow to start and, at times, worn out. After a couple of body kicks from Santos, Smith looked wilted, which makes sense considering he is 6-foot-4 and cuts down to 185 pounds.
“I cut all through the night, and I didn’t get any sleep,” Smith told Combat Press. “After I made weight, I felt so exhausted and went to sleep, and I couldn’t get hydrated. It was just bad. The circumstances were really bad. I’m not making excuses, because it’s all on me, but I’m just too big for that weight class. It was just tough to leave the weight class when I was still winning [but] I knew I needed to move up for a long time.”
Smith has always had a kill-or-be-killed mentality, which was very evident in his early career. It wasn’t until his 30th pro fight that he actually went to a decision. Not many fighters can say that. However, as he continued at middleweight, the constant cuts were taking a toll. After his loss to Santos, Smith decided to move up to 205 pounds. The UFC gave him a shiny new contract, too. It was like a new lease on life.
“My quality of life was getting terrible,” Smith admitted. “It sucked at home, and I just wasn’t happy. It was taking a huge toll on my body. Now, without worrying about the weight, the stress, and the quality of life part of it, I’m just so much fucking happier. I’m enjoying it so much more. It’s nice not needing to get up every morning and go check my weight and having to plan my day out based on how heavy I am.
“Every single training session had to be a barnburner, because I had to get that weight off. I had to get skinnier. I had to get smaller. And if I focused on technique or drilling, I wasn’t losing any weight doing that. I was just running myself into the ground and killing myself each training session.”
The problem with going from a walking weight of approximately 225 pounds to 185 pounds over 40 times in the last decade was not just what happened from the beginning to the end of Smith’s camps. The problem was that his health was being affected between camps as well.
“It wasn’t just the cutting, but the balllooning and the yo-yoing in between,” Smith explained. “Right now, I’m just trying to level out. Before, I was going down to 185, and I was blowing up to 230, because of the trauma. I was actually bigger when I was trying to get to 185 than I am now when I’m just trying to stay at 205. My endocrine system and just my whole body was all messed up from all those massive weight cuts. Now that I’m not focused on my weight cuts and trying to get down so low, my weight has kind of leveled out, and now we’re trying to keep my weight up.”
On Saturday night, Smith will be back in action at UFC 225. He has asked for a fight with Rashad Evans in the past, but the bout never came to fruition. At the United Center in Chicago, he will finally get that shot.
“The UFC came with that,” Smith said. “This wasn’t the first time I was offered Rashad. This was the third. The first two times I was offered Rashad was at 185 [pounds], and both times, I accepted, but ended up fighting other people. The first time I ended up fighting Hector [Lombard], and the second time was Thiago. To be honest, I was a little skeptical. They offered Rashad, and I was like, ‘Yeah, OK. I’ll take it.’ Then, a couple days later, boom, there was the bout agreement. I signed it, but even after I signed it, I was a little skeptical.
“It’s really weird, because [Evans] hasn’t said much about it. I’m not sure what that’s about. Maybe he’s in a position where he doesn’t have to worry about doing media and talking to people, but that does worry me a little bit.”
Evans has not had a great run as of late. In the last two and a half years, he has lost four in a row. His last two defeats were split decisions against Sam Alvey and Daniel Kelly. It’s hard to gauge where Evans’ head is at going into this one, but Smith is not overlooking a very tough opponent and former UFC champ.
“A lot of people are writing Rashad off,” Smith said. “If you go on Reddit or anywhere on the internet and look at this fight, people are just saying I’m going to kill him. I don’t know what people are seeing that I’m not seeing, but I still see a dangerous guy. I know he’s lost his last four fights, but his only knockout was to Glover Teixeira, and Glover’s knocked out everybody. That’s nothing different. That’s nothing to hang your head about.
“He may have lost a step with his speed, but if you watch his fights, he seems to have adjusted. I’m not saying I’m going to have a huge speed advantage over Rashad, but the speed part of the game is pretty comparable. I think I’m more powerful than he is, and I think he’s going to be shocked. I think the reason he probably took the fight is because I’m coming off a loss and moving up a weight class.”
Smith prefers this fight at 205 pounds instead of 185 pounds for obvious reasons. He thinks he has a much better chance at light heavyweight. He will be in much better physical condition, and his training has been more focused on technique and drilling, rather than purely burning calories. He felt compromised at middleweight. Now, he feels great.
“My strength-and-conditioning program has changed a little bit, and, honestly, I’ve had to focus more on my diet than I did when I was trying to get to 185,” Smith said. “At 185, I was just cutting things out while still trying to have energy to do something. Now that my body is leveling out, the stress is all gone, and I’m not trying to get skinnier, and my weight is coming down too fast. Now, my nutrition team is just trying to keep my weight up. There was a time when I was down to like 210 a month ago. I’m not even trying. I can tell I’m getting bigger, but I’m not getting heavier. I just feel healthy.”
A brand new “Lionheart” will show up this weekend. He couldn’t be more excited. It is a huge card, with a lot of eyes on it, and it is perfect timing for a quick turnaround for an opportunity he has thought about for the last decade.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but I’m looking for a quick turnaround,” Smith explained. “I’ve got to focus on Rashad. Anyone would be silly to look past someone like that. But I want to get in there, I want to get a finish, and I want to enjoy this awesome pay-per-view card. It kind of sucks, because Rashad and I are on the Fight Pass prelims, but the flipside of that coin is that UFC 225 is a fucking barnburner card. So, I can fight, get it out of the way, and just enjoy it and being in Chicago. Then, I want a quick turnaround. I keep hearing about this card in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I don’t know if anybody knows this, but the Pinnacle Bank Arena is 30 minutes from my house. I think that fighting in Lincoln would be a dream come true for me, man. It’s in the same vicinity of where I made my pro debut. I made my pro debut in September 2008 at the Pershing Auditorium. I mean, this is almost 10 years later, by a month. From fighting my pro debut in Lincoln to fighting in the UFC in Lincoln 10 years later would be a dream come true for me.”
If Smith puts on the performance that he is expecting against Evans, then there is no reason why the UFC should overlook this opportunity for him. The Nebraskan has the chance to make big waves at UFC 225, and the additional motivation might just be the mental edge he needs to beat his most high-profile opponent to date. Regardless of the outcome, light heavyweight is his home, and he is promising a great fight for the fans.
“I just bring it, man,” said Smith. “It’s going to be chaos, and I don’t think it’s going to be chaos that he’s ready for. I know everyone is going to talk about all the champions he’s fought and [Mauricio] ‘Shogun’ [Rua] and [Lyoto] Machida and [Jon] Jones, but I’m just a different animal. I’m sure that he feels prepared for it, and his career has him prepared for it, but this is something he can’t prepare for. I’m a completely different fighter at 205.”