Earlier this week, Anthony Smith opened as a huge underdog as challenger against UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones in a fight that, according to Dana White, is all but confirmed.
After going 4-3 as a middleweight in UFC competition, Smith has been on fire since moving up to 205 lbs., scoring consecutive first-round knockouts over Rashad Evans and Maurício ‘Shogun’ Rua (two former UFC light-heavyweight champions) in two fights that lasted a combined two minutes and twenty-two seconds.
With just forty-four days separating these two wins, Smith had emphatically announced his arrival to the division. In September, a third-round submission over former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir (ranked second in the division at the time) secured Smith’s position as a title contender.
But 2018 was not a perfect year for Smith. In February 2018, another fighter who has since made the move to light-heavyweight, Thiago Santos, defeated him via second-round TKO.
Santos got the better of Smith a little under a year ago, coming back from being mounted in the first round to land some heavy shots and end the bout in the second with a body kick and a barrage of punches.
Yet it is Smith who is set to receive a shot at the UFC light-heavyweight championship whilst Santos will headline a fight night event against Jan Błachowicz in the Czech Republic.
Let’s look at the statistics. Santos was tied for the most UFC wins (3) in 2017, as well as the most TKO/KO stoppages (3). In 2018, Santos again found himself tied for the most UFC wins (4) and held the sole record for most TKO/KO stoppages (3), as well as total fights (5).
Santos has twelve UFC victories on his record. Ten of those twelve were TKO or KO stoppages.
Since moving from middleweight to light-heavyweight, the Brazilian is 2-0 in the division, having followed a third-round TKO stoppage over Eryk Anders with a second-round KO of Jimi Manuwa, picking up performance-related bonuses in each of his two light-heavyweight outings.
And whilst Santos did suffer an emphatic loss in 2018 (a first-round KO defeat to David Branch), so did Smith… to Santos.
I’m not arguing that Santos’ credentials at light-heavyweight outweigh Smith’s, but they are at least comparable. And surely Santos having a clear stoppage win over Smith less than a year ago should be enough to swing things in his favor.
In Oezdemir, Smith does have a win over a top-ranked contender at light-heavyweight, which is something Santos cannot claim. Perhaps Błachowicz (ranked fourth in the division) is the opponent Santos needs to put himself next in line.
But I still think Santos’ accomplishments are being overlooked here. He has more wins and knockouts than anyone else in the promotion since January 2017 and an emphatic win over the fighter who is receiving the title shot.
If Marreta continues his recent form through 2019, his status as a title contender will be undeniable.