After back-to-back lopsided losses to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic to begin his 2020 campaign, Anthony Smith had lost much of the luster that surrounded the beginning of what has largely been a successful run at light heavyweight.
At UFC on ESPN 18, Smith secured a much-needed victory, as he submitted Devin Clark with a triangle choke 2:34 into Round 1 of their headlining bout at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Saturday night. A third straight loss would have made Smith all but irrelevant in the UFC’s 205-pound division. Instead, “Lionheart” sent a message to UFC brass — and the right people were paying attention.
“He looked awesome,” UFC president Dana White said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “[He] came in to make a statement and message received.”
Smith and Clark were initially expected to square off in the evening’s co-main event before a positive COVID-19 test for Curtis Blaydes nixed his headlining heavyweight bout against Derrick Lewis one day prior to the card. Once that happened, both light heavyweights agreed to a five-round contest instead of three once their bout was elevated to the featured attraction.
As it turned out, Smith only needed one frame to dispatch Clark, who entered the fight having won three of his last four Octagon appearances. White praised Smith’s willingness to adapt and accept what other established stars might have seen as a risky opponent.
“These are the things you’ve got to do,” White said. “You’ll see in this business a lot guys who try to hold their spots and not fight anybody. That ain’t the way to do it.
“What he did tonight, that’s the way to do it. Are you still that good? If you’re still that good, you should go out and do what you did to tonight to a guy like Devin Clark — a young, hungry stud who wants to work his way up and steal your spot You’ve got to go out and make a statement. He did that. People respect that. People love guys that want to fight.”