UFC Fight Night 31 Preview: Michael Chiesa vs. Colton Smith

Kicking off the main card for UFC Fight Night 31 – Fight for the Troops 3 are two TUF winners and rising prospects in the UFC’s lightweight division. U.S. Army vet and TUF 16 winner Colton Smith faces off against TUF 15 winner Michael Chiesa. Both of these guys are coming off of losses, so expect to see some fire from each guy to avoid a two fight losing skid.

Fighter Summary

Michael Chiesa (9-1 overall, 2-1 UFC)

Strengths: Versatile and unpredictable striking, subs, mixes things up well

Weaknesses: Tendency to get caught in bad spots, hesitant at times

Colton Smith (3-2 overall, 1-1 UFC)

Strengths: Good hands, wrestling and clinching

Weaknesses: Too much boxing, not enough kicking

Fight Breakdown – Both of these guys are coming off of losses after taking significant steps up in competition, so look for them to come out on a mission. Each fighter will want to make a statement here, doubly true for Smith who will undoubtedly feel representative of the military audience.

Unfortunately for him, Chiesa may be the more talented and potentially dynamic fighter between the two. Like Smith, he is still relatively young and developing. He throws a variety of punches and kicks strung together and rarely throws just a single punch or kick if he is within striking range.

So advantage in the striking department? Chiesa. Smith is more of a hands first and second and third kind of guy and doesn’t utilize kicks as much as he could. That might change for this fight after his loss to Robert Whitaker, but we’ve already seen from Chiesa that he can throw pretty much everything at any time, aimed at any part of his opponent. That’s something Smith has to watch out for, while Chiesa may only have to guard for Smith’s boxing.

That said, Smith’s hands aren’t something to just ignore and his boxing is good enough to keep Chiesa honest. It may not be accurate and powerful enough to knock Chiesa out with a simple one-two, but it will be good enough to tag him if he lets his guard down.

While Chiesa may be more dangerous with his strikes, Smith will easily equalize with his grappling. If things don’t go his way with the strikes, expect Smith to close the distance and push Chiesa to the cage or take him down. Smith used his wrestling and grappling to win TUF and it’s what got him to the big stage. His striking isn’t quite good enough to keep up with top guys, which showed against Whitaker, so don’t be surprised to see Smith initiate some dog-ugly clinching against the cage, whether or not Chiesa starts to get the upper hand.

That’s where Chiesa has to be careful. Both Smith and Chiesa are on the tall side for lightweights and Chiesa might even be a natural welterweight. That kind of frame at that weight usually means the fighter won’t be as compact, thick and durable as someone say the size of Benson Henderson or Gil Melendez. Chiesa can’t take too much damage without it altering his overall effectiveness, so he has to be able to break clinches quickly and without absorbing nasty parting shots.

This is the kind of fight that could go Chiesa’s way if things get a little wild and instinctive, but that could also work against him as it did against Jorge Masvidal. Chiesa has to use his brain first and skill set second, remembering to stay calm because Smith is going to be in his face and taking the fight to him.

Key to Victory: Can Chiesa stuff Smith’s takedowns?

It may very well boil down to that. Chiesa really should have the upper hand in striking for the duration of the fight, and has enough in his arsenal and gas tank to keep Smith occupied, on the defensive and thinking about what’s coming next.

Smith is inevitably going to shoot for a takedown and if he gets it, he’s going to get to work and put some leather on Chiesa. Chiesa is good enough to find his feet again and even pull off submissions, but better to avoid getting into that dangerous position in the first place. Even better, if he can initiate and earn the takedowns, then it would show his dominance in every area and should really boost his confidence.

Smith couldn’t take Whitaker down, and Whitaker proved to be better on the feet and won the fight. Chiesa can take a page out of that book and emulate that strategy, but only if he’s good enough to keep Smith off of him.

Why It Matters – Winning TUF to two fight losing streak. That would sum up the UFC career for the loser of this fight. They both showed a lot of promise, hell every winner of TUF does because they won the damn show, which is not an easy thing to do. But there is obviously a big difference between showing potential and realizing it. Look at Uriah Hall. Tons of potential and hasn’t realized a bit of it outside of TUF.

One big criticism of TUF winners has been a lack of success for many of them post TUF. Some of the guys are beasts and have or will soon become UFC mainstays, while others have basically been complete busts. Neither guy will fall in the latter category with a loss here, but a two fight losing streak is definitely not a good look and puts a lot of pressure on them to win now.

With Veteran’s Day less than a week away, Smith, as stated, also has that added pressure of fighting in a fort in front of an audience full of military service men and women, as well as a TV audience tuning in to support them. That can either be a big boon or a huge distraction, whether he is winning the fight or not. It’s most likely going to affect him in a positive way and he’ll have the crowd behind him, which makes Chiesa the “villain” here by default.

Both of these guys desperately need to avoid another loss here and the best way to do that isn’t by playing it safe and literally fighting to avoid a loss, but rather fighting to win, to finish the opponent and earn an impressive stoppage. It would be surprising to see either of these guys play it extra cautious come fight night, so expect to see an entertaining bout between two scrappy fighters. When it’s all said and done though, if both guys fight to the best of their abilities, Chiesa should have his hand raised at fight’s end.

Prediction – Chiesa

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