As good as it felt for Anthony Smith to release the pent-up anger he had toward Ryan Spann and fairweather UFC followers, the veteran light heavyweight had a few second thoughts about his UFC Vegas 37 rant.
Smith made good on a resolution to stop holding back and let Spann and the MMA world know exactly how he felt after a first-round submission victory. “Where’s that ass-whipping you’re bringing” were his exact words as he stood over his opponent and security officials intervened, along with some choice expletives.
Then he remembered professional courtesy. For one, UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby had specifically asked fighters to watch their language at the pre-fight meeting for this past Saturday’s event, and Smith pretty much ignored that when he dropped several f-bombs that turned his post-victory speech into a block of dead air, courtesy of ESPN+.
“I apologized to a lot of people,” Smith said Monday on The MMA Hour. “We’re actually allowed to cuss on ESPN+. Shelby was like, ‘Listen, you guys can cuss, I just hope you don’t. I have a daughter that watches all these fights; she’s a big fan of all you guys. I’d just rather she didn’t have to hear it.’ So I felt really guilty, because I typically don’t [swear in post-fight interviews]. I don’t think I ever have.”
Not everyone Smith spoke to needed the reassurance.
“[UFC President] Dana [White] and [UFC COO] Hunter [Campbell] loved it,” Smith said. “They just loved that I was passionate – that’s what they cared about. … I apologized to Sean Shelby. … The one time Sean brings up his kid’s going to be watching, just take it easy on the curse words, I say 100,000 of them. Everyone was good with it. They understand that’s not the typical me. I felt more bad about the Ryan Spann thing.”
In the buildup to the fight, Spann had angered Smith by discounting his extensive experience in the octagon. With all the sacrifices Smith had endured to make it to fights, he was intent on taking his respect from his opponent, not to mention all of the doubters who had written him off after a pair of high-profile losses to Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic that put him further in career limbo after a lopsided loss to now-former champ Jon Jones. Spann could have declared himself to be a better fighter and it wouldn’t have bothered Smith at all. Instead, he poked the bear.
“The dismissiveness of my journey is what pisses me off,” Smith said. “Last night, I put my kids bed. It’s Sunday night. My 4-year-old goes into a hysterical mess. And she’s just yelling and screaming that she wants me to hold her, and she starts screaming, ‘I don’t want you to go,’ over and over and over, and I was so confused. I didn’t know what she was talking about, because I wasn’t going anywhere. She’s used to waking up every Monday morning with me being gone. So she’s got, like, PTSD of me leaving. So for Ryan Spann to just blatantly blow it off and the sh*t that I’ve done and do doesn’t matter, it does matter, and it does matter to a lot of people. There’s a lot of people that care, including my peers, that respect me. And that’s where the anger came from from me.
“Maybe he didn’t mean it as a disrespectful comment in the way that he approached it and completely wrote off everything I’ve ever done in the sport. But I was able to do that stuff because of the other sacrifices that I make. So maybe I made a mountain out of a molehill, but it genuinely bothered me. So that’s what I said to him as soon as the fight was over: ‘I bet you respect me now. I bet you care now. Where’s that ass-whipping you said you were bringing? Because I didn’t get it.’”
Smith fired back, “You should have been better when he cut that promo” when Spann’s coach Sayif Saud tried to calm the situation by saying, “We’re better than this.” That was another conversation he had after cooler heads prevailed.
“I several times went out of my way to say nice things to Sayif and his team, and I don’t have to do that,” Smith said. “I sit up on ESPN and sing that guy’s praises. I don’t have to do that. But I believe he’s a great coach; he’s one of the elite coaches in the game.”
Eventually, Spann made his way back to Smith, and what was a potential post-fight dustup turned into the usual display of post-fight sportsmanship.
Smith still stands behind everything he said afterward about fans who’ve criticized his opposition as substandard, and he has no plans to stay quiet when he believes he’s being attacked.
“I’m trying really hard not to make a heel turn,” he said. “I’m over it. I was always like, ‘Who do I got to beat?’ Then I think I got it figured out, and it’s always just another issue, so I just [don’t] care. And it feels really good to not care, but I was holding all that in. It was eating me alive. We talk about filling up my cup – normally, I would have put all that sh*t in a cup, and you would have never heard about it. But I’m not filling up my cup up any more. I’m just letting it out. If you don’t like it, it is what it is.”
That last statement might serve as a warning to ESPN censors, but Smith assures us he can express himself without needing a bleep button.