Anthony Smith relates to Alexander Volkanovski, finds retirement ‘terrifying’

When he’s not fighting other men in a cage, Anthony Smith likes to do risky stuff of the type that UFC contracts typically forbid.

The cage-fighting is plenty risky, of course. It just doesn’t cover all those moments in between the trips to the cage where, according to the one-time UFC light heavyweight title challenger, life is on mute, and things can really go off the rails.

That’s where things life off-roading and celebrity bull-riding come in. They provide a shot of adrenaline, and his media obligations take care of the rest.

“I only fight a couple times a year because of where I’m where I’m at in the division,” Smith said on The MMA Hour. “So I need something to look forward to. So that’s my daily, like Mondays, I do the podcast, and Wednesdays, I got the radio show, on Thursday, we do the podcast, and if I’m working the desk, then I travel, [and] then I’m working on the weekends.”

When Alexander Volkanovski fell short in a quick turnaround against Islam Makhachev, Smith could relate to the UFC featherweight champ’s reasons. Volkanovski was brought to tears talking about the challenges of inactivity for a highly trained fighter’s mind. Even with a good support system, it wasn’t enough.

“I understand as the champion of your division, there’s only a certain amount of pay- per-views every year, there’s only a couple of spots you can fight every year,” Smith said. “Uou have to wait on contenders, especially when you’re as dominant as he’s been. There’s not a lot of those challengers that people are really convinced you have a chance. So he’s kind of spinning his wheels, and sometimes as fighters, we fall apart when we’re spinning our wheels.

“I get it. He said he had a great wife, a fantastic family. Life is good. He’s got money in the bank. He’s got crazy opportunities. I felt that exact same way. I have nothing wrong going on in my life, but I’m not chasing anything. And you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, and I’m getting older, and I don’t know what to do, and I need something to chase, and I need something to work toward. I need a target. I need a date. I need a name, and it just drives you crazy.”

Smith’s theory is that all athletes suffer from something of an identity crisis once they find success. They’ve been pushing so hard to get to the top, they have to reinvent themselves when they get there.

The issue is particularly serious for champion fighters, who are tasked with defending their place atop a division and don’t get the same opportunities to compete as up-and-comers. They are, of course, well-compensated for that position. At the same time, they’re left to their own devices when it comes to their personal lives.

“I found myself wanting to like, I don’t know, hug [Volkanovski] when he was talking [about struggling being outside of fight camp], because I understand. I get it. Especially after my mom died. Everyone was telling me, ‘You shouldn’t be fighting. What are you doing?’

“I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not fighting. … A lot of the traits – I don’t think this is across the board – but I think the majority of us, a lot of the traits that make us really good at our jobs and really great fighters, make us really tough humans to co-exist with. And I think it makes us struggle in other parts of our lives.

“You have to focus for so many years, and you have to just dial in on this one thing, and it has to become who you are, and you make a lot of sacrifices, and you lose a lot of friends, and there’s relationships, and like everything else goes to the side. And then maybe you ‘make it,’ and then you don’t have the ability to fight as often. Volkanovski, how many opportunities a year does he have to fight?

“We have to have a target, always. Fighters are better chasers. Thinking life in general, my rule in sports specifically, you’re either a frontrunner, or you’re a chaser. Like Jon Jones is a really good frontrunner. He’s very good at keeping distance between him and whoever’s No. 2. Most fighters are chasers. You always have to be chasing something.

“Like Michael Jordan, like not just fighters, but athletes, had to create things in his head. ‘That guy was talking shit, now I have to put it on this guy.’ He has to chase something. You’re the champion, and you don’t get to fight as often, you don’t always have that target. Now, you’re being chased.”

Smith’s plan once he retires is to immerse himself completely into broadcasting and media. He’s already a regular on UFC broadcasts as an analyst and co-hosts the “Believe You Me” video podcast with fellow UFC broadcaster and ex-champ Michael Bisping. He also co-hosts a radio show on Sirius XM.

Even with all that, Smith said the prospect of retiring from MMA is “terrifying,” and he’s not sure how he’ll deal with it. But it probably involves some risky stuff. Podcasting and broadcasting only takes up so many hours.

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