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With early 2020 return in sight, Anthony Smith aims to lead team to title at Kenektic 1

Anthony Smith would prefer to be competing in Friday night’s Kenektic 1 event, but he is extremely thrilled to be a part of the evolution of submission grappling and jiu-jitsu.

“Lionheart” is one of the top contenders in the UFC’s light heavyweight division and is looking to get another crack at the 205-pound world championship. After undergoing surgery on his severely broken hand, Smith was expecting to be on the sidelines for four months. Unfortunately, the surgery did not go as well as expected and he had to go under the knife once again.

“I haven’t really spoken about it publicly, but I actually had another hand surgery about a week and a half ago,” Smith revealed to MyMMANews.com. “The first one failed, so they had to completely restart and do it all over again. They removed the previous plate, replaced it with a new one, took bone graphs from my leg, so now my leg is messed up. It’s been rough, man. It’s been rough but I’m staying positive. I kind of had to restart my whole recovery process about a week and a half ago but we’re getting through it, man. We’re going to keep moving forward, put one foot in front of the other and I think my timeline is still the same. I still think like January, early February time.”

While Smith isn’t overly enthused about the latest development in the road to recovery, he does get to take his mind off of it and fall into something he loves to be a part of; grappling and jiu-jitsu. Even though Smith has been known for his vicious knockouts, he is a jiu-jitsu guy at heart. That’s why he is thrilled to be leading “Team Lionheart” into battle at the inaugural Kenektic submission grappling event on Friday night, which will stream exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.

Not only does his team have to play a big part in claiming a team championship, Smith, as the team captain, has to be strategic in the process to help his squad be successful against the three opposing teams, which will be lead by Chael Sonnen, Chris Lytle and Craig Jones, respectively.

“That part, honestly, interests me the most,” Smith said. “That’s going to be the funnest part for me. Obviously, I think it’s clear at this point, I’m a jiu-jitsu guy. I’m a huge fan of the sport and I’m excited to help put out more jiu-jitsu content in general. I think there’s not enough of it, not enough places for people to compete. Of course, the strategic part of it, that’s what I’m most excited about. To go up against minds like Chael, Chris Lytle, and especially Craig, and just battle it out in a little bit of mental warfare, trying to figure out who’s games are going to match up against who’s. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun. I think Chael and I are going to do a lot of chirping back and forth trying to get under each other’s skin, and try to get one over on the other in terms of who we send out there on the fly. Me and Chael, we always go back and forth so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

While the competitors themselves have no idea who they will be grappling against, Smith believes his team’s opening round matchup will take place against Sonnen’s “Team SUG”. Smith’s team consists of Former Bellator Featherweight and Bantamweight Champion Joe Warren, Pan-American gold medalist Scott Morton, ADCC US Trials gold medalist Enrico Cocco, IBJJF No-gi World Champion James Brasco, and Fight 2 Win Champion Brian Sparrow. In the MMA world, some of those names may not be recognizable, but in the grappling community, Smith feels he has a dream team.

“You know what, man? Everyone thinks that I put together some crazy team, and that I put together this group of guys that I didn’t know. That’s not the case,” Smith explained. “The only person I wasn’t directly connect to was Enrico Cocco. I’m super tight and I train with these guys all the time. James Brasco, I don’t know if anybody noticed this, was actually a former opponent of mine. Him and I fought years and years ago, and I’ve always watched his progression into the jiu-jitsu world and he’s the one that really connected me with Enrico. Cocco is a savage. Brian is one of the greatest jiu-jitsu guys I’ve ever trained with, Scott Morton is the guy who gave me my black belt and the only jiu-jitsu coach I’ve ever had. Joe Warren, that name just speaks for itself. That dude’s a gamer and that dude can grapple.

“I wasn’t just doing this to get my name out there and do something for fun. I’m coming to win.”

If you look at Smith’s face when he steps into the Octagon for any of his fights, you know that he is coming with everything he has. It’s the competitive nature he brings into all of his fights. That competitive nature isn’t just used in the cage, it’s used everywhere for Smith. When it comes to leading his team, he isn’t going to be playing around on Friday night.

“The people that you see that are super competitive in the Octagon, they’re just like that outside of it, too. That’s the reason we are where we are,” Smith said. “I’m competitive in anything. I race my kids to the car when we leave the grocery store. We’re constantly competing in every aspect of life. My fiancee and I, we compete in everything, my friends — whether we’re playing bags out in the yard, or whatever it is. We’ll race home from the store in the neighborhood and it’ll be the same exact way in this event. I want to win and I want these other guys on my team out there a little more in the jiu-jitsu world. It’s a small community, but this is about opportunity and for people to compete at a super high level within this community. It makes me want to keep growing it.”

Kenektic is co-founded by Las Vegas entrepreneur Keith Veltre, Sean Wheelock, and UFC hall of famer, and current bantamweight Urijah Faber. In a recent interview with MyMMANews.com, Faber believes this event can be the catalyst for making submission grappling a truly professional sport like the NFL or NBA.

Smith agrees with that sentiment.

“I think that this whole setup and the whole model that we’re doing here, I just don’t see anyway that it’s not going to blow up and be super successful,” Smith said. “There’s really not any way you can do this in a fight sport with the strikes, the punches and things that come along with that, but it’s very similar to a team sport like football. I think that’s a really good analogy Urijah used there. I truly think it could blow up. Once we get it out there and people see it, I think we’ll have a situation when it’s not just four teams, we can have 10 teams. We can have a season and then we can highlight these individual grapplers that are on a team, and then people can be fans of all of these individual guys who are on the same team. I think it really could be a really successful step.”

The one-night tournament consists of bouts with eight-minute time limits. Losers of the semifinal matches are eliminated; draws result in the elimination of both athletes; and the first team with five members eliminated will be out of the competition. The surviving team will be declared the winner. A feature unique to Kinektic Grappling is that the order in which athletes compete is not predetermined. There are thirty seconds between each bout and each team captain will be responsible for strategically deciding which team member will participate next. All members of each team must compete at least once.

With the unique ruleset, Smith’s coaching strategery began immediately. There are a couple of questions that Smith has when it comes to the guidelines that aren’t exactly clear, but it makes him very interested to find out the answers.

“There’s a couple,” Smith explained. “The weight limit? That was a tough one if I’m being very honest. You just got to… for example, the strategy started for me immediately before I put my team together. I purposely didn’t get my team out there until the very last second because I wanted to see who everyone else had. Take Craig Jones, for example: now who the hell are you going to get that’s going to beat Craig Jones? That’s a tough one. But I don’t need anybody to actually beat Craig Jones, I just need someone to stick with Craig Jones for eight minutes. I don’t need anyone to beat him on the mat. That’s how I started putting my team together. I have such a big connection with the jiu-jitsu world, that I only need one point of contact to get to any person I want to get to. Then I started looking at who the guys are that I’m fans of, that I enjoy training with, that I know their games in-and-out, and then I’ll start looking at everyone else’s teams and match people up. I think that the weight limit was tough because of a guy like Craig Jones. That kind of threw me off.

And I think the 30 second rule of picking your competitor? That’s going to be really fun because if a few guys ride each other out and there’s no submission, and they both get eliminated, then who sends a guy out first? I don’t think we designated how that’s going to work. I don’t want to send my guy out first, I’d rather see of Chael or Craig are going to send out there. How are we gonna figure that out? Are we just going to argue about it? You have to have someone on the mat in 30 seconds or another guy is eliminated. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. I gotta feeling that me and Chael are going to be making side bets, who’s going to send their guy first? Maybe a game of rock, paper, scissors. We’ll find out.”

Anthony Smith wants to win this inaugural Kenektic team tournament on Friday beyond a shadow of a doubt. He wants his team to have the celebration at the end of the event and bask in the glory of becoming the last squad standing.

If that were not to happen, Smith’s silver lining would be taking out the team lead by Sonnen and hold the bragging rights for weeks and months to come.

“That’s enough for me,” Smith said about beating Sonnen. “Just to get a W over Chael would be bragging rights for a long time. I want to win the entire thing and I believe we’re competing against Chael’s team first, which will be a lot of fun. I couldn’t tell you how many guys were contacting me, wanting to be on my team just hoping for an opportunity to choke Chael Sonnen.”

Kenektic 1 streams live on UFC Fight Pass Friday night beginning at 10 p.m. EST.