Everything about Anthony Smith‘s UFC debut is lining up like a dream.
Smith (17-9 MMA, 0-0 UFC) meets Antonio Braga Neto (8-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) next month at UFC on FUEL TV 10 in Brazil. And while making your UFC debut far away from home, and in the home country of your opponent, wouldn’t be ideal for most fighters, Smith is loving the opportunity in front of him.
“I’m super excited – it’s like a dream come true,” Smith on Tuesday told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “Me and my teammates always talk about what we’d do if we ever had an opportunity to go to Brazil, and now I have it. It’s a huge opportunity.”
UFC on FUEL TV 10, which also serves as the finale of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2,” takes place June 8 at Ginasio Paulo Sarasate in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil.
Smith, just 24, has been fighting since he was 17. He went 2-2 in Strikeforce over a pair of stints with the promotion and now makes his way to the UFC after that promotion was dissolved.
His final fight with Strikeforce, at the promotion’s January finale, was a second-round submission loss to Roger Gracie. And despite the negative outcome, Smith said he used the fight as confirmation that he can play on the big stage after hanging toe to toe with Gracie for much of the fight.
“I learned that I’m supposed to be here,” he said. “I always kind of looked at Roger Gracie as a mythical being. Once I was standing in front of him, and I was doing some of the things I really wanted to do, as the first round went on, I was gaining more confidence. There’s always that ‘what if.’ But I learned I’m supposed to be where I’m at. The fight didn’t end up working out the way I wanted it to, but there was other stuff that played into that. I didn’t take anything too bad away from that fight. I learned a lot about myself, honestly.”
The other positive that came from that outing, which snapped a three-fight win streak that included a Strikeforce win over Lumumba Sayers this past August, was that Smith went from training for an elite-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to another one in Neto.
And as far as he’s concerned, if he can hang around with Gracie for a little bit, he doesn’t have anything to worry about when he faces Neto in about a month.
“I always felt like Roger Gracie was a perfect style matchup for me – and Neto is exactly the same way,” he said. “The only difference is, Roger Gracie is not human. I don’t give a s— what anyone else says. He’s off the chain. Neto, everyone wants to talk about he’s a three-time world champion, but it doesn’t really matter. Anything other than Roger Gracie’s jiu-jitsu is an upgrade. I’m not really too worried about it.
“That was a big focus of my last training camp, and I’m excited that I don’t have to kill myself trying to nullify his jiu-jitsu because I know I can hang with him.”
The trip to Brazil he’s been pining after, an opponent for his debut that doesn’t require him massive changes in his training camp from his most recent fight, a UFC debut on the biggest stage of his career – things aren’t to shabby for “Lionheart” right now.
About the only drawback he can think of is fighting on the Facebook prelims. But even that, he knows, won’t last for long if he does what he believes he’s going to do in the UFC’s middleweight division. In 26 career fights, he’s never gone the distance and has been past the second round just once.
“Like everyone else, I’d love to be featured on FUEL or whatever,” Smith said. “But I know I’ve got to earn that spot. Being it’s my first fight in the UFC, I know it’s only going to take me a couple fights before I’m on my way. I’ve never been in a boring fight and never had a problem putting on exciting fights for the fans. I’ve got to pay my dues and show that I’m worthy. I’d much rather be on a bigger platform, but I’ll take what I can get for now.”
For the latest on UFC on FUEL TV 10, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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