Maturity in life is a moving target. It’s not just a simple function of age, attitude and/or experience. Maturity is being able to combine those three major areas of life with the little things that can’t be measured or described to show growth in total self.

Professional fighters, or any athletes for that matter, have long shown varying levels of maturity. Guys like Miguel Torres or Richie Incognito could be really good guys to their close friends, but acts of stupidity that range from a simple tweet to years of locker room hazing gone awry have shown nothing more than a lack of maturity. On the other end of the spectrum, guys like Randy Couture or Jerry Rice have always shown a ton of class, engage in very little trash talk, and were able to paint themselves as role models for their respective sports.

Smith (L) (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Smith (L) (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Bellator middleweight Anthony Smith has always been an entertaining fighter to watch, and his style of fighting has made him a role model in his own right. Currently in his mid 20s, the native Nebraskan is already one of the very few fighters that has been in over 25 professional bouts and has never been to a decision. Anybody that knows anything about MMA knows that this is an amazing statistic.

Smith is young and has put on some wild performances, but his attitude toward training has not always been right on target. It worked for him for a while, but eventually, this point of view caught up with him. Last year, for the first time in a long time, he suffered three losses in a row. Granted, they weren’t all his fault.

His Strikeforce finale in January 2013 ended in a submission after Roger Gracie repeatedly poked him in the eye, leaving the young fighter partially blinded in the second round. In June, he dropped his UFC debut to Antonio Braga Neto after popping his knee while defending a leg lock. And in December, Smith suffered his third loss of the year after breaking his hand early in his fight with Josh Neer.

After a tough run like that, the old Anthony Smith may have actually considered hanging it up. However, a renewed outlook on his career and a brand new Bellator contract have combined to bring out a different brand of Anthony Smith.

“I’ve changed a lot of things in my personal life, and my whole mindset is changing,” Smith admitted to The MMA Corner. “I’m more mature. I think the way I’ve been training recently is more tuned in to my style. I’m really getting better.

“I’m now focusing on skill building, which is something a couple of my coaches talked about. I always kind of blew them off, like, ‘Ah, well, fuck that,’ you know? I just thought I could train, train, train, train. You can train 100 times a day, 100 days in a row, but if you’re not doing it in the correct places, you’re just wasting your time. I think that’s one thing I’ve got going for me right now. I’m doing the correct training for the correct amount of time.”

That is how champions are made. Smith has shown a ton of growth in just one year, because he now understands that he has all the pieces in his head and it’s time to put everything together.

Leading up to the Neer fight, Smith was already changing his attitude, which had turned really dark last fall. One could easily think that he needed a win to stay on track with his improving outlook on his craft, but it seems like the loss has actually helped him to grow.

“I worked really, really hard for that fight,” Smith stated. “I broke my hand in the first minute of the first round, so I didn’t get a fair shake at it, but, whatever, it’s part of the game.”

That statement alone shows tremendous maturity. Had that fight happened in October, who knows when fans would have had the pleasure of seeing Smith fight again?

Last year, Smith started writing online about what was going on in his head, and he has tremendous respect and understanding toward one of the biggest names in the history of the sport deciding to temporarily hang it up last year. Many people thought Georges St-Pierre was copping out by declaring his semi-retirement, but Smith’s thought process was right in line with that of the UFC champion.

“I’m just not as focused on it anymore,” Smith explained. “I train in the morning, go to work, and train two times after work, and that’s it. I don’t take it any further than that. I’m preparing myself as well as I possibly can, but I’m not consuming myself as much as I used to.

“I’ve got this ongoing blog on Facebook, and I was talking about how I’d obsess over it. It was like GSP and how he would obsess over his fights, and it was the only thing he ever thought about. I was kind of the same way, and I totally know where he was coming from in that aspect. I’m not doing that anymore. I’m just focused on my family. I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old, and I’m engaged to be married. I’ve got a lot of things going on, and MMA is just a small piece of the puzzle.”

It’s good to see Smith maturing in life and gaining a new outlook on his training and career, because he is now in a position to make a big run in a big promotion. Bellator 117 takes place tomorrow night at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, right across the river from his hometown of Omaha, Neb., and Smith has suddenly found himself in a three-fight contract, kicking it off at that event. His opponent is no stranger and actually just fought one of his coaches, Ryan Jensen, last July.

“I was contracted to fight Victor Moreno like three other times, but it never happened,” Smith said. “He’s from Des Moines, you know, so he’s definitely a familiar face.”

Smith (L) (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Smith (L) (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Moreno is a well-rounded mainstay of the Midwest fight scene. He has 51 fights under his belt and has faced a lot of UFC-level talent. Even though he can fight anywhere his opponent takes it, most of his losses are by submission.

“I think it’s a good match-up, stylistically,” Smith said. “I don’t think there’s any one thing that he does any better than another. Me and my coaches have a pretty good idea what his game plan is going to be. Personally, I think I’m better everywhere, so I don’t really have a game plan. I’m just going to go out there and fight wherever the fight takes me.”

Smith is ready to make a big splash in Bellator, and it all starts with a win over Moreno. Both men are well-rounded fighters, but Smith’s pace and slight size advantage will pose a tough challenge for his opponent. Both men want the win, but it’s safe to say that Smith is the hungrier fighter.

Bellator’s structure poses a unique proposition for Smith. His last Strikeforce fight and his UFC debut were all about the pressure to win on a big stage. His maturity level was still slightly behind where he is now. With Bellator, a fighter really gets to focus on one fight at a time and work his way into the brackets to eventually get a shot at a title.

“My goal is to end up in the Bellator tournament this year,” admitted Smith. “I think if I go in there and make a really good impression—you know, one fight, two fights—I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t want to put me in the tournament. I think I’m right there with a lot of the dudes that are already in there.

“I respect all the dudes that are fighting for Bellator—you know, Kendall Grove, Brett Cooper, Doug Marshall—and I think I’m right there with every single one of them. I’ve trained with a couple of them, and I don’t think any one of those dudes is any better than I am. I want to be in that tournament. I love the tournament, because the title shots are earned, not given. There’s no one that’s going to stand in my way as long as I’m winning.”

While 30-year-old Incognito is busy smashing his own Ferrari with a baseball bat, because he can’t seem to grow up, the 25-year-old Smith is growing, learning, adapting and really positioning himself as somebody that could be a role model for future fighters. He has the experience, he has the guidance and he has the skill. Now that his mentality is catching up with the other aspects of his life, the world is set to see a brand new professional on Friday night when he faces Moreno at Bellator 117 to kick off his new contract.

“I don’t want to be like every other fighter and say I’ve found a whole new meaning and I’m a whole new guy. That’s what I think is going to happen. I’m getting older, but I think people forget sometimes that I’m only 25 years old. I’ve been in this sport a really long time, but I’m still young in it. Some people in this sport don’t even fight until they’re 25. I still have a lot more to give to the sport, especially this year. I had a rough streak last year. I had it real tough last year.”

Anthony would like to thank his family, especially his daughter and fiancé. He would also like to thank his friends, fans, coaches and training partners at Premier Combat Center. He would also like to thank his sponsors: Capitol Lounge, The End Zone, Larson Motors, Battle Sports Science, Two Men and a Truck, Done Right Construction, Caged Combat Wear, Big Brain, CageTix.com, and Dynasty Concrete. Follow Smith on Twitter: @LionheartSmith

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator