Most would have written off Anthony 'Lionheart' Smith as a journeyman fighter, after losing a regional bout following his release from the UFC in 2013. Twenty months and seven wins later, Smith would not only return to the premier mixed martial arts organization, but would become a stalwart in the middleweight and light heavyweight division.
We look at five memorable wins from Anthony 'Lionheart' Smith.
VFC 47: Anthony Smith vs. Josh Neer 2 - Jan. 14, 2016
Following Smith's release from the UFC, his first bout scheduled was against fellow UFC veteran Josh Neer for Midwest-based Victory Fighting Championship. Neer would look to close this distance with Smith, while Smith would show glimpses of his striking in the clinch range. Smith would ultimately succumb to the pressure of Neer and be submitted in the third round in the main event of VFC 41.
After rattling off six-straight victories, Smith would earn a rematch with Neer at VFC 47 with a middleweight title up for grabs. Their respective gameplans would run similar to the first fight.
Three minutes into the bout, Smith lands a right hook to an overzealous Neer pressuring the cage. Neer would fall into Smith's clinch, where Lionheart would land repeated elbows, knees and follow-up punches. Smith would continue his onslaught and the referee would step in to save Neer, making Smith the VFC middleweight champion.
After his fifth-straight finish, Smith spoke of his intentions to return to the UFC, "Before I say anything else, Dana White, last time I had an opportunity to show you what I could do, I didn't. But now since I'm here, my name's Anthony Smith, and I'd like a shot."
And just like that, he was back in the Octagon.
UFC Fight Night Kansas City: Anthony Smith vs. Andrew Sanchez - April 9, 2017
After going 2-1 in his return to UFC, Smith was scheduled to face The Ultimate Fighter 23 winner Andrew Sanchez. Smith came into the fight as a +255 underdog.
For the opening bell Sanchez would repeatedly attempt taking down Smith, hoping to wear out Smith in the process. With Smith focused on blocking takedowns, Sanchez would begin winning the striking exchanges as well.
Down two rounds, Smith's corner urged for a 'sense of urgency' from their fighter. Smith would press forward in the final round and would begin landing strikes on a visibly slower Sanchez.
With just under 90 seconds to go, Smith would deliver a flurry on a retreating Sanchez. With each strike missing or glancing, Smith would finally land a hail-mary, head kick as Sanchez rebounded off the cage. Sanchez crumpled to the floor, as Smith followed up to finish the fight.
Following the fight, an emotional Smith broke down to Brian Stann, "Man, I feel so good. I've been through so much the last six months, sometimes I don't think I can do it."
Smith continued, "My coaches said the head kick was there. He was so tough. I didn't expect him to that much of a problem on my feet. Rounds one and two, I was so lost in there. I was just trying to stay in there and look for an opening."
UFC Fight Night Pittsburgh: Anthony Smith vs. Hector Lombard - Sept. 16, 2017
Next up for Lionheart was former Bellator middleweight champion and Cuban Olympian Hector Lombard. Bad blood boiled over as both fighters began trading barbs on social media.
In the opening round, Lombard would have Smith backpedaling with heavy punches and leg kicks. Other than a few counters, Smith would have no answer to Lombard's pressure and power.
It would be such of the same in the second round, until the final ten seconds of the frame. Just after the warning, Smith would drop Lombard with a right hand, as Lombard would hang on until the bell.
Between rounds, a fired up Smith began yelling and taunting Lombard, which seemed to change the tide of the bout.
In the third round, Smith would start timing and returning fire on Lombard. Halfway through the final frame, Smith drops Lombard with a jab-cross combination, finishing the fight on the ground.
Following the fight, Smith had one statement for his opponent, "Hey Hector, you know my name now?"
UFC 225: Anthony Smith vs. Rashad Evans - June 9, 2018
After losing his bout against Thiago Santos, Smith moved up to the light heavyweight division and was scheduled to take on former UFC champion Rashad Evans, in would then be the biggest fight of Smith's career.
With Smith having a five-inch height, and slight reach advantage, Evans, an accomplished wrestler, would look for the takedowns and clinches.
Evans would fail on his takedown attempts, as he would pressure up Smith against the cage. Just under a minute into the bout, Smith would eventually reverse posturing positions and land a knee on Evans' heads rendering him unconscious.
Speaking with Joe Rogan on moving up weight classes, Smith said, "I think going to 205 was the best decision I ever made, Joe. I felt good in there, I felt strong in the clinch. I was able to manipulate his head."
UFC Fight Night Hamburg: Anthony Smith vs. Shogun Rua - July 22, 2018
So how did Smith end up facing a pair of former UFC light heavyweight champions in a span of six weeks?
Volkan Oezdemir was scheduled to face Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua at UFC Fight Night Chile. However due to an alleged assault case for Oezdemir, which would possibly lead to visa issues, the fight was rescheduled to UFC Fight Night Hamburg two months later. Just three weeks out, Oezdemir was pulled from the bout in order to set up a fight with Alexander Gustafsson (which did not materialize after both fighters withdrew from injuries), which leaves Shogun without a dance partner.
What kind of man would face a former UFC and PRIDE Grand Prix champion with just three-weeks notice?
A man with a 'Lionheart.'
After a cautious opening minute, Smith would eventually sneak a front kick to the face through the guard of Rua. A partially stunned Shogun would attempt to rush forward as Smith would back up to the cage following the exchange. As Shogun would attempt his own strikes, Smith lands his own jab-hook combination, which wobbles Shogun. Smith immediately turns the pressure on Rua, following up with strikes against the cage, rendering Shogun unconscious while standing, giving Smith his second win over a former UFC champion.