UFC light heavyweight Anthony Smith remembers sitting in a garage with his friends and talking shop about MMA. With beer flowing, they marveled at how much Mauricio Rua was able to accomplish in the now-defunct PRIDE and UFC.
Those same friends are now calling up Smith to express their awe. “Shogun” Rua is no longer an idol, but an upcoming opponent.
Smith (28-14 MMA, 5-3 UFC) most recently fought ex-champ Rashad Evans, and after a first-round knockout this past month at UFC 225, he’s now facing Rua (25-10 MMA, 9-8 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 134 on Sunday from Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany.
Along with some good luck, Smith attributes his recent surge to his new division and a anywhere, anytime mentality. He got the call to fight Rua after one-time title challenger Volkan Oezdemir was pulled from the event due to visa issues.
“Since I moved up to 205, the weight is no longer an issue, and the name literally doesn’t matter,” Smith, who faces Rua on the FS1-televised main card, told MMAjunkie Radio on Monday. “You could have said it’s Brock Lesnar, and I would have had the same reaction.”
As soon as he heard Rua’s name, the former middleweight put down the phone and got to the gym. Smith has prepared for Rua’s legendary aggression, though he’s “completely fine” if the ex-champ decides to make it a wrestling match.
“He’s not an idiot, and he knows if you look at my record, I have the ability to knock you out with anything,” Smith said. “And I’m younger, and I’m going to be bigger than he is.”
Smith imagines no scenario in which he’ll be at a deficit against Rua, whose won his past three fights. But if there’s an early charge, he said there won’t be an early retreat.
“You can’t let ‘Shogun’ bully you and push you around in there,” Smith added. “If you meet ‘Shogun’ in the middle, there’s going to be two bulls running into each other, and we’re going to figure out which one is bigger. And I’m OK with that.”
The matchup carries additional intrigue for the winner’s next step. Recently minted dual champ Daniel Cormier (21-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) is considering Rua as his next opponent, possibly favoring Rua over two-time title challenger Alexander Gustafsson.
Cormier has said Gustafsson, who’s next set to face Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 227, isn’t enough of a draw for a rematch and must do something “spectacular” to earn the right. Smith acknowledges Cormier’s motivations, and while he isn’t even close to the level of pay-per-view attraction, he believes the champ may be setting him up to get a title shot.
“If he thinks ‘Shogun’ is the next guy, and I beat him, then I think rightfully, he gave me the opportunity to put my hand up,” Smith said. “I think that he did that for me, and I don’t even know if he realizes that.
“He isn’t excited about the Gustafsson fight, whether it’s a money thing or a new matchup. I think I’m a fresh face, and that’s an exciting matchup for the fans, me versus ‘DC.’ But I haven’t even thought about that right now.”
Currently, Smith is working on walking out of the Rua fight with a devastating stoppage. Even if it doesn’t bring a title shot, it might earn him the matchups that will make such an opportunity undeniable.
“The whole legend killer thing is cool,” Smith said. “That’s the thing people are attaching to me, but eventually, people are going to wonder how I’m going to fare with guys who are closer to my age.”
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Did Daniel Cormier raise stakes of UFC Hamburg headliner? For Anthony Smith, he did