Anthony Smith can’t believe it.
He finally gets his UFC title shot after 10 years as a pro, and immediately people start acting like he’s a dead man walking.
He’s got oddsmakers labeling Jon Jones a 13-1 favorite to beat him in their light heavyweight title fight at UFC 235. He’s got guys like Luke Rockhold saying he won’t even last one round with the champ. MMA fans everywhere look at the match-up and shrug, as if they were hoping for something better even if they can’t say exactly what.
Is this a commentary on what people think of Smith’s abilities? Yes and no.
It’s true that he had his share of ups and downs in his past, especially back when he was still calling himself a middleweight. He might be the only person to endure a four-fight losing streak in organizations like Fight Club Inc. and Victory Fighting Championship, and still go on to challenge for a UFC title.
But now he’s won three straight, including two wins over former UFC light heavyweight champs and one over a recent light heavyweight title challenger. (He was the underdog for the latter, as well.) Still people look at him like he’s just a living, breathing punching bag for Jones.
A lot of it probably has to do with what we think of Jones. For all his faults outside the cage, he’s made a compelling argument as the greatest of all time inside of it. Every time he fights, he manages to project the aura of a man who has already won. His opponents are mere mortals reaching above their station. He’s something else entirely.
Smith knows how this works, or at least he thinks he does. Jones might say it’s just confidence, but Smith described it a different way.
“Jon’s biggest attribute is his genuine delusion,” Smith told MMAjunkie. “Jon is genuinely so delusional and so arrogant that he is unbeatable that it works in his favor, and he almost creates the illusion that he is. He fights with this complete arrogance and disregard for his opponents. And if he loses that, he loses a lot of his ability.”
Of course, it’s only a delusion if it isn’t true. So far, aside from one close fight against Alexander Gustafsson in 2015 (followed by a not-so close rematch last month) Jones has been unbeatable – or at least unbeaten. We might know, in the hypothetical sense, that he can be beaten. We just haven’t actually seen it.
That’s not so for Smith. We’ve seen him lose in the UFC, in Strikeforce. Those in attendance on one September night in Fargo, N.D., even saw him lose in Crowbar MMA: Fall Brawl. It’s hard to have the unbeatable aura after that.
What that approach ignores, however, is the capacity for growth and change. That’s one variable we don’t handle so well in this sport. We tend to seize on one narrative for every fighter and then cling to it stubbornly even when the situation begins to change. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for people to imagine that the same guy who lost to Cezar Ferreira in 2016 could possibly stand a chance against Jones in 2019.
And maybe they’re right. Maybe Smith is not now and never will be a match for Jones. Maybe Jones isn’t delusional so much as he is just rightly convinced that he’s the best.
But if Smith’s rise from middleweight also-ran to light heavyweight title contender tells us anything, it’s that there’s always time to change your own story. Now that he’s gotten the shot, he doesn’t need us to believe he can win. He just has to find a way to believe it himself.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
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