LAS VEGAS – It was a rough run for one of the game’s good guys.

Former UFC light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith lost three fights out of four, got several teeth knocked out in a loss to Glover Teixeira, had to fend off an armed intruder in his family’s home, and just generally seemed to have things go wrong.

That made not just Smith’s victory over Devin Clark in the main event of UFC on ESPN 18 on Saturday, but the manner in which he did it – a textbook head-and-arm triangle in the first round – all the more satisfying.

And though it really hasn’t been all that long, Smith (34-16 MMA, 9-6 UFC) had been through so much that he had to admit the he forget what it felt like to get his hand raised at the end of the night.

“You forget what it feels like to win,” Smith told MMA Junkie at the post-fight news conference. “I remember a loss from like ’06 as an amateur. But you do forget what it feels like to win. And I put a lot of pressure on myself. I don’t know man – it’s been a crazy goddamn year.”

Exacerbating matters in Smith’s mind was the fact that he felt both of his two most recent losses – to Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic – were bout winnable fights that slipped away.

“It hurts even more when you’re losing to people you know you can beat,” Smith said. “Had Glover been a three-round fight, I win that fight. Had I not gotten the two leg kicks and that stuff, fairly confident I beat Rakic. Both of those guys did great jobs – they’re incredible competitors. Sometimes the shoe just drops like that. But the break-in and COVID, and getting my teeth knocked out, it’s just a mess. So it feels really good to be back where I belong.”

With his 50th career fight now under his belt, Smith can look back and see how a more focused mental approach helped him get back into the win column. For all the self-doubt that came with his rough patch, it was as simple a matter as remembering what he’s capable of doing.

“You hear the whispers: ‘Where’s his head at? Is he healthy? Is he back too soon? Does he really want this? Is he too focused on the (analyst) desk? Is he worried about his pretty teeth?’” Smith said. “I hear it all. So you don’t want to prove those people right, and that’s where the pressure comes, and then it spirals down from there, because then you’re focused on everything else. (Saturday), I was just focused on reminding myself what it felt like and just going in and doing what I know I can do. I know what I’m capable of. I just have to do it.”