Smith (35-16 MMA, 11-6 UFC) earned his third consecutive victory against a lesser-ranked opponent on Saturday when he submitted Ryan Spann (19-7 MMA, 5-2 UFC) in the first round of their main event matchup at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Coming into the fight, Smith made it very clear he wanted a rematch of his unanimous decision loss to Rakic (14-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 175 in August 2020. He doubled down during his in-cage interview, and it seemed the sequel was made on the spot ad Rakic instantly responded and said he’s available in December.
Smith said he would like nothing more than for that to come to reality, but it’s not because he has a deeper issue with Rakic beyond simply losing their fight.
“That’s what I wanted,” Smith told MMA Junkie and other reporters at the UFC Fight Night 192 post-event press conference. “That’s what I asked for. That’s the fight I’ve been talking about. It’s nothing personal. Me and Rakic have had nothing but positive exchanges with each other both before and after the fight. It’s purely competitive. I want his spot. He took mine, I want to take it back.”
In addition to losing his ranking to Rakic, “Lionheart” said he’s still bothered by what that loss represents. He said he was in a “dark place” following a brutal TKO defeat to Glover Teixeira in May 2020, and he wasn’t where he needed to be mentally for his training camp and in the fight with Rakic itself.
He’s seemingly turned a positive corner since then, earning first-round stoppage wins over Spann, Jimmy Crute and Devin Clark. Not only does Smith want to show he’s a better version of himself now, but he said it’s the fight that does the most of him in terms of climbing the 205-pound rankings to a second UFC title shot.
“No disrespect – I think Dominick Reyes is an easier fight (than Rakic), but that doesn’t get me closer to the title,” Smith said. “I need what’s going to get me closest to the title fight. I could hang around and wait for the loser of the title fight, but I don’t want to wait. I think for me stylistically – not saying for everyone – but for me, Rakic is probably the toughest fight out of those (top) five guys.”
Although Smith’s performance against Spann earned him “Performance of the Night” honors, he wasn’t the happiest with his body of work. He felt the fight was “chaotic and wild,” and despite his track rate of finishing fights, would’ve liked something cleaner.
Still, though, he got his hand raised in a matchup against an opponent in Spann who has some hype as a future player at light heavyweight. Smith said he didn’t think he was getting enough credit coming into the matchup, but at this point is over putting stock into the critics and only wants to satisfy himself.
“What do I got to do? Who do I have to beat?” Smith said. “I beat the old guys and people said they were too old. Now I beat the young guys and everyone says they’re not ranked high enough. What the f*ck do you want me to do? I don’t give a f*ck anymore. I’m doing what I have to do and fighting the guys in front of me.”
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