Next Wednesday (Nov. 6, 2013) Colton Smith and Michael Chiesa will go to war on the main card of UFC Fight Night 31: "Fight for Troops 3" from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Both fighters are recent The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season winners. Smith won Season 16, while Chiesa took home the Season 15 contract after an emotional run to victory.
Smith and Chiesa are relatively young in their mixed martial arts (MMA) careers and each lost his most recent Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout. Smith was stopped by TUF: "Smashes" winner Robert Whittaker at UFC 160 and Chiesa was submitted by former Strikeforce Lightweight title challenger Jorge Masvidal.
A win at Fort Campbell will be absolutely crucial for Smith and Colton to further their case in UFC. With both combatants highly known for their wrestling skills, this bout could turn into a chess match on the ground.
But, it could also turn into one of the most boring fights on the card.
We'll hope the former comes true in Kentucky. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Colton Smith vs. Michael Chiesa:
Record: 3-2 overall, 1-1 UFC
Key Wins: Mike Ricci (TUF 16 Finale)
Key Losses: Robert Whittaker (UFC 160)
Keys to Victory: Smith is an effective wrestler whose mat skills were on full display during his path to the TUF 16 championship. He won all five of his victories on the show with a smothering decision, including a neutralizing of Mike Ricci in the show's finale.
In Chiesa, Smith will face an opponent who has comparable ground prowess, albeit in different ways. Because of that, Smith will have to be on top of his game. While his wrestling is top-notch, his chin has been suspect throughout his brief MMA career - both of his losses were knockouts.
Thankfully for him, Chiesa has never knocked a single foe out.
There's not a lot of surprise to what Smith's gameplan will be - he'll look to utilize his strong power double leg to drag Chiesa to the mat and keep him there. Chiesa has shown great proficiency on the ground. However, Smith can get "Maverick" out of his comfort zone by controlling him while avoiding submissions.
With his recent loss at UFC 160 Smith may be on thin ice with UFC brass. He not only needs a win at UFC Fight Night 31 - he needs an impressive one. Another boring decision will be only slightly better than a loss.
Smith has never tapped out. That fact will pay huge dividends when he's in the heat of battle against a strong grappler like Chiesa.
Record: 9-1 overall, 2-1 UFC
Key Wins: Al Iaquinta (TUF 15 Finale)
Key Losses: Jorge Masvidal (UFC on Fox 8)
Keys to Victory: Chiesa was the feel-good favorite of TUF 15, taking the show by storm during his inspirational win streak. He showed extreme resilience on the ground during the show. It continued during his first non-TUF UFC bout, where he submitted Anton Kuivanen via rear naked choke at UFC 157. For his efforts, Chiesa earned a bout with Masvidal.
It turned out to be too much, too fast for the relatively inexperienced Chiesa.
Dangerous veteran Masvidal taught "Maverick" a hard lesson. While it was disheartening, it will probably end up doing Chiesa more good than bad in the long run. He'll no longer have the thought of losing his unblemished record hanging over his head - and that should help him implement his gameplan against Smith next Wednesday.
Chiesa will need top-level takedown defense as his main skillset here. He'll be faced with almost never-ending shots. If he can defend them and land some punches in the process, he'll score good points in the eyes of the judges.
He's never knocked anyone out, but he could surprise a lot of people by showing up to Fort Campbell with a more polished striking game. Smith has exhibited that he can be knocked out, but a striking stoppage by Chiesa would be a big surprise.
Chiesa's best offensive weapon is his brutally efficient submission game. He's won seven out of his nine total victories by way of tapout.
He'll be looking to secure his eighth at UFC Fight Night 31.
Although Smith has never tapped out, that won't stop Chiesa from trying to make him. Even if he gets taken down -- and he most likely will be at some point -- all is not lost for Chiesa.
If he can utilize a surprising sweep or two and take Smith's back, the opportunity for a fight-ending choke will present itself. Chokes are Chiesa's strong point above all else - but it remains to be seen if he can latch onto a dominant wrestler's neck and end a fight in the Octagon.
Bottom Line from Fort Campbell: The bottom line for this fight is absolutely going to come down to who can impose their will on the ground. Smith should push the pace with his conditioning and takedowns, but dragging Chiesa into his comfort zone on the ground may not necessarily be the best strategy.
With neither fighter being too dangerous on the feet, this fight will also be influenced by which one has sharpened their striking skills the most. Smith has one striking stoppage to his name; Chiesa does not.
Smith's power could quickly become an X-factor at Fort Campbell.
Barring any unexpected knockouts, this fight promises to be a ground battle that could go either way. Smith will be looking to control Chiesa with his effective top game while Chiesa searches for one of his many submission holds.
Emotions will be running high at UFC Fight Night 31 because both fighters will see their stock drop considerably with a loss. It's never good to rack up two consecutive losses early on in your UFC career. Smith may have more pressure on him because of his style, which many deem boring.
Chiesa can probably retain his employment with a loss thanks to his fame during TUF. But you can bet the hard-nosed lightweight will be looking to get a finish at UFC Fight Night 31 and rebound from his first-ever loss.
"Maverick" has the tools to accomplish that goal ... if he can avoid repeated takedowns.
Colton Smith and Michael Chiesa will square off in a battle of TUF winners at "Fight for Troops 3." Who do you pick to score some momentum and fight on in the Octagon?