Rising UFC middleweight contender Anthony Smith will experience a step up in competition later this evening (Sat., Sept. 16, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 116 live on FOX Sports 1 from inside PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., when he meets veteran powerhouse Hector Lombard.

Since returning to the promotion early last year, “Lionheart” has produced a 3-1 divisional record, including a recent knockout victory over former Ultimate Fighter winner Andrew Sanchez. Smith’s recent resurgence has him directed at the middleweight top 15, but it’s been hard for the 29-year-old to land the big fish.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to fight Hector,” said Smith in a recent interview with MMA Fighting. “I had to fight Hector because he’s the only guy that said yes. The middleweight division is in a real weird place right now. All the ranked guys are doing a really good job of protecting each other. And I’m not even sure if that’s a conscious thing that they’re doing, but they’re not fighting anyone else that isn’t ranked. They’re just doing this round robin of fighting each other and I don’t know how the fu*k anyone’s supposed to get inside (the top 15 of) the rankings, if no one inside will fight someone outside of it.

“I get the mindset of wanting to work your way up the ladder and fight guys that are ranked, but if you come off a couple of losses and you’re ranked 10-15, then you’ve got to start fighting guys outside the rankings and give some of us opportunities to get in there, or else we’re all just spinning our wheels here.”

Lombard, 39, is a well-known name around these parts but has dropped his last three fights. Before that, the Cuban knockout artist defeated veteran Josh Burkman at UFC 182, but it was later revealed that Lombard tested positive for steroids and was subsequently suspended one year.

As he gears up for his main card tilt with Lombard, Smith isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to performance-enhancing drug use and the current state of United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) testing.

“Hector came out with a YouTube video the other day, it was called ‘100-percent natural’. It’s just the most laughable sh*t I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” said Smith. “What do you mean 100-percent natural? It takes one Google search. You failed a drug test, come on, dude. Don’t insult everyone’s intelligence, you look like an idiot. You’re 40 years old, you don’t look like that for no goddamn reason. And here’s how the system works and anyone who’s done any kind of research as far as PEDs and the testing process goes, I’ll still say to this day with 100 percent confidence that at least 60 percent of the UFC fighters are still using PEDs.

“I promise you, I guarantee it’s 60. It’s a big game of cat and mouse and what happens is you’ll see this rash of positives. Jon Jones and two or three other people got caught around the same time. There will be a rash of positives. The people are ahead of the test, well then USADA will create a new test or they’ll tweak a test and be able to find that substance in the body for longer, and then obviously they’re not going to tell everyone about that before they do it, so people start getting popped. Then it’s like, ‘Ah, fu*k, you know,’ so they freak out. ‘Ah, let’s get ahead of the test again.’

“So until there’s more money in making the test than beating the test, that’s how it’s always going to be.”

While USADA is doing everything in its power to clean up the sport, steroids isn’t going to go away overnight. It’s an uphill battle and one that fighters like Smith need to power through.

As far as Smith’s divisional aspirations are concerned, defeating someone like Lombard will certainly catapult him to the forefront of the top 15 entering next year. He’s been on an impressive roll of late and will really stand out among the pack with another finish this weekend in Pittsburgh.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 116 fight card, starting with the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” matches at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.