Following his comeback submission win over Volkan Oezdemir in the main event of last Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night 138 event, light heavyweight contender Anthony Smith has earned his shot at the title. The former middleweight gatekeeper has looked absolutely incredible since moving up to 205lbs back in June, as he’s finished Rashad Evans, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and now Oezdemir in less than six months. Those three wins have pushed Smith’s stock up to a peak level, and it’s time the UFC gives arguably the most improved fighter in the sport today a shot at the belt. He’s earned it.
Smith is 30 years old and has only become a big name this year, but this is a fighter who has paid his dues in the sport. He has almost 50 professional fights since making his debut a decade ago, accumulating a 31-13 record since 2008, and all while fighting for quality organizations such as the UFC, Strikeforce, and Bellator. Smith is a fighter who has flown under the radar for many years despite a terrific record that includes 28 stoppage wins, but that was also his fault because he was never able to win the “big” fight to put him over. But since moving up to 205lbs he looks like a completely different fighter. The light heavyweight version of Smith is the best version of him we’ve ever seen, and it’s obvious that moving up in weight was the best decision he has made his entire career because he looks rejuvenated at his new weight class. And it may land him a title shot soon.
We know that the UFC plans to strip light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier of his belt as soon as Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson step into the ring later this year at UFC 232, but after those two fight the next contender in line for a title shot isn’t set in stone. There are solid fighters like Jan Blachowicz, Corey Anderson and Ilir Latifi who have looked good lately, but none of them scream title contender. None of them seem to have the “it” factor that the UFC is looking for. Smith has that “it” factor. He’s a guy who gets it, and he’s showing the world that not only is he a tremendous fighter, but he’s also someone who is a great ambassador for the sport as we saw with his tremendous post-fight interview after he beat Oezdemir. Smith is nothing but a professional, and at a time when the sport needs role models, “Lionheart” looks like he can be someone fans can get behind.
At this point, I don’t see any argument why Smith wouldn’t be next in line for a title shot. The only way he doesn’t get it is if Jones and Gustafsson put on another amazing fight and a trilogy match is warranted, or if Jones and Cormier fight for a third time, but otherwise the UFC would be foolish to pass on him getting the next title shot. The UFC would be smart to capitalize on Smith’s status right now as a fan favorite and give him a crack at the belt. Yes, he’s unproven as a pay-per-view draw. Yes, he hasn’t fought five rounds before. And yes, he has lost a lot of big fights in the past. But this isn’t the Smith of the past. The light heavyweight version of Smith is a brand new fighter who is out here ready to prove he’s the best fighter in his weight class. He wants to be the man to take out Jones and at this point it’s hard to bet against him. Smith has done everything he needs to do to earn himself a title shot, and now it’s up to the UFC to make the correct decision and give it to him.
Do you think Anthony Smith is ready for a UFC light heavyweight title shot?