Anthony Smith sees a pretty clear path to challenging Jamahal Hill for the UFC light heavyweight title.
After Hill (12-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) claimed the vacant 205-pound belt this month with a unanimous decision win over Glover Teixeira in the UFC 283 headliner, the questions have opened up about whom will be the opponent to kick off his title reign.
Hill told MMA Junkie after beating Teixeira that he would like to face Jiri Prochazka, who was forced to relinquish the strap after suffering a serious shoulder injury. Prochazka (29-3-1 MMA, 3-0 UFC) is all in on making that happen, but the timeline of his return is going to determine the division’s path forward.
Both Hill and Prochazka said that July or August would be the best-case scenario, but Prochazka can’t make any guarantees about his health. Hill is open to waiting to see what happens, but said he doesn’t want to go much further than April without knowing something solid.
Smith (36-17 MMA, 11-7 UFC) doesn’t see the dates lining up for Hill vs. Prochazka, so if he can win his next fight, which Smith teases could happen in March against an unknown opponent, he thinks that could lock him in to a title shot.
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“Glover is out because he retired; (Aleksandar) Rakic is still hurt, I don’t know what’s going on with Jan (Blachowicz) and (Magomed) Ankalaev,” Smith said on the “Believe You Me” podcast with co-host Michael Bisping. “If I had to guess, I’m going to be very honest, I think it’s going to end up being me. Jiri said on Ariel (Helwani’s) show that he still needed some time, he wanted his body to get right, then Jamahal had a response saying he wants to wait for Jiri, but he needs an answer by April. He wants to know, ‘Are you going or not?’ So I think I’ll fight before then, and I don’t know Jiri is going to be ready. I think he’s rushing it.
“… I think he’s optimistic, and for his sake I hope he is able to fight, because I think he deserves it. He never lost the title. I would love to see Jamahal versus each other, but if it’s not Jiri, I think that I’m the next one to fight. I think I would be next in line.”
A potential Smith vs. Hill fight would be unique in that they are good friends, and more recently, training partners. Smith joined Hill’s team for multiple days in preparation for Teixeira at UFC 283, and they formed a strong bond.
Both men know that business rises above all, though, and are comfortable with the idea of potentially facing each other. Hill told MMA Junkie he could see Smith getting the shot if he pulls off a win in his next fight, and Smith agrees it could happen if he lives up to his end of the bargain.
No matter what I’ve got to fight one more time, so it’s almost hard to even think about the title right now because I have another task ahead of me. But he knows and his team knows and his manager to knows I want that belt just as bad a he wanted to win it, and he knows exactly what that means. Anybody who has ever got close to it or fought for it once before or is getting close to it, knows how that burning desire feels like. So there’s no secret there. He knows how I feel.”
Smith was the backup fighter for the UFC 283 main event, but ended up missing weight. His services were ultimately not needed, but he promised it will never happen again.