Anthony Smith was in ‘dark place’ after knockout loss to Khalil Rountree

Anthony Smith’s latest loss was a tough one to take.

“Lionheart” was on the wrong end of a highlight-reel knockout this past December at UFC Vegas 83 after accepting a bout on short-notice against Khalil Rountree. The knockout artist dropped Smith early in the third round with a hard punch that Smith didn’t recover from, sending the one-time light heavyweight title challenger to his third loss in four outings.

On the Believe You Me podcast, Smith admitted that he’s done plenty of self-reflection in the aftermath.

“For anybody that’s listening, if you’ve texted me or reached out and I haven’t responded, it’s not you, it’s me,” Smith said. “I’m just in a weird place and sometimes you just have to unplug and I really threw myself into just being with my family. Sometimes you have to sit back and you’ve got to reevaluate and just kind of see where you are, what do you want, where do you want to go, what do you want to do, because it was a pretty dark place there for a while.”

Rountree was originally supposed to fight Azamat Murzakanov at a Dec. 2 event, but after Murzakanov was forced to withdraw due to pneumonia, Smith stepped in to face Rountree a week later. According to Smith, he was hovering around 236 pounds when he received the call and had to cut down to the 205-pound limit in about 10 days.

In addition to a challenging weight cut, Smith also had to find a southpaw training partner quickly to prepare for Rountree. He ended up working with veteran Chris Curtis, who he praised for approximating Rountree’s skill set, but at the same time Smith knew he was in trouble as he struggled to deal with the fighter’s left hand. On fight night, that failure to adjust proved to be pivotal.

“I think it’s probably just a time thing,” Smith said. “I think over the entirety of a training camp, over five, six, seven weeks, seeing it every single day, I think I’d figure it out. But I wasn’t seeing [the left hand], so we had to change the game plan in 10 days. So we went from having no fight to a game plan to three days into a 10-day preparation to have to change it because I’m not seeing it. I was getting f****** tattooed with it in practice. We had to change it and it was working and then I went into the fight and [Rountree] was just way faster than I had anticipated.

“I knew he was going to be fast, but it was shocking how fast he is, how he goes from zero to 100 so fast. So I struggled with the speed in the fight, I didn’t really have any other options. I wasn’t seeing the left hand, he was faster than I was, and he was faster than I was prepared for. Some of that is I wasn’t in fight shape. I was seeing things, but my body just wasn’t reacting fast enough because I haven’t been in camp. That’s no excuse, that’s my fault, I put myself in that position and I knew that was a possibility.”

Smith gave Rountree credit for keeping the fight technical and avoiding a brawl, a scenario in which Smith might have had more success. He also would have liked to have wrestled more, but taking the fight on short-notice limited his cardio.

As he approaches Year 16 of his pro fighting career, Smith can’t help but think about when the right time will be to hang up the gloves and if he doesn’t, how he can continue to push forward.

“I don’t want to be the guy that has people telling you that you need to leave,” Smith said. “I’d like to go out on my own terms and I don’t want to be forced out. Those questions and those doubts come in, like, ‘Do I belong here? Why am I still doing this?’ Am I doing this because it’s all I know? Because I don’t need the money. I don’t need to take unnecessary damage. I don’t need to get knocked out for no reason. The money is nice and the paychecks are cool and the adrenaline rush that you get from being in there is awesome, but am I just doing this because I don’t know anything else? It’s all I know, it’s all I’ve done my whole adult life. I just kind of remove myself from everything and just cut away from all the outside input and just try to figure out what do I really want. Why am I still doing this? Do I still want to fight because I like fighting or is it just because it’s familiar?

“I think I came to the conclusion that I still like fighting and I still want to do it. There’s some things that need to change though. Not just in my game and style. I had a conversation with Glover [Teixeira] that I think really helped a lot. Just as we age, you have to change some things. It’s not that you have to quit fighting, it’s not like, ‘I’m not as good here, I’ve not progressed here,’ but there’s some things that you’re already good at that you can continue to really shape your game around and just change it a little bit. I also think maybe I need to stop being so focused on the end goal so much. Maybe I just need to take it one at a time and just face whatever challenge is in front of me and stop—not that I’m looking past people or looking too far ahead—but everything I have wrapped into this fighting thing is about the title. Maybe when I stop being so concerned about the title, maybe I can fully focus on what’s in front of me.”

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