Anthony Smith ‘didn’t have a reason to say no’ to short-notice UFC 303 fight vs. Carlos Ulberg

Anthony Smith is doing his best to manage his career more carefully, but he struggled to come up with any good reasons to decline when he was called to fight at UFC 303.

With former UFC champ Jamahal Hill injured and unable to compete on the June 29 card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the promotion announced Thursday that Smith (38-19 MMA, 13-9 UFC) would be stepping it to face Carlos Ulberg (9-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) in a light heavyweight main card matchup.

Smith, 35, is no stranger to accepting fights under unideal circumstances and has done it throughout his career, but in recent times, those risks have not paid off with wins. But this situation is quite different than others, “Lionheart” admitted, and it has a lot to do with the fact he was training with Hill before his withdrawal.

“I really didn’t have a reason to say no,” Smith said during a guest co-host appearance on ESPN’s “Good Guy/Bad Guy” podcast. “I’ve been living this whole, ‘One fight at a time’ thing and trying not to look too far ahead. Not focusing on the title, and so I just had to put this fight into a box. And I didn’t have a reason to say no. I was in camp with Jamahal. He was here in Omaha with me. I’ve been training really hard. I felt ready.

“I was already trying to get a fight in September. It was leaning towards (Dominick) Reyes, possibly. So I was already in that mindset. Jamahal was here, he was injured, he went back to Vegas and got some imaging done and was hurt and I think I was just the natural progression. I was in camp with him. I was in shape. I’ve already been thinking about Ulberg trying to help Jamahal. I think it was just the natural call that they would make, and I just didn’t really have a reason to say no.”

Although it’s just 17 days between the time Smith accepted the replacement opportunity on International Fight Week and the time he will step in the octagon, he doesn’t think it lessens his chance at victory.

Ulberg, No. 15 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie light heavyweight rankings, is riding a six-fight winning streak and has earned a shot to fight upward in the division. He gets that chance with No. 12-ranked Smith, who on paper, has a style that could cause a lot of challenges for the striker.

Smith knows the experience advantage is dramatically in his favor going into UFC 303, and as long as he fights responsibly, he likes the chances of his hand being raised.

“I don’t know that I see a guy that compete with me in a full mixed martial arts fight,” Smith said. “I see him in competitions with people that somewhat favor him a little bit. It’s high-level strikers he’s been in there with, a lot of hard hitters. But not many guys that are going to mix it up a whole bunch. No one is grappling his neck and hanging on him, pushing him up against the fence and banging knees to his body. I don’t think he’s fought a super high-level mixed martial artist that can fight him anywhere. If you let him get to his spot, though, and let him feel comfortable

“I think he’s good. I think he’s really good when he’s in the spot that he wants to be. … If he has a hole, I’ll find it and I’ll drive a truck through it.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 303.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie