Kicking off the main card of UFC Fight Night: Brown vs. Silva are two flyweights looking to build some momentum after recent wins. Chris Cariaso, now on a two fight win streak, meets Louis Smolka, who won his UFC debut earlier this year. Cariaso, was last seen winning a unanimous decision over Danny Martinez, while Smolka did the same over Alptekin Ozkilic.
Chris Cariaso (16-5 overall, 6-3 UFC)
Strengths: Solid, but not spectacular
Weaknesses: Low ceiling
Louis Smolka (7-0 overall, 1-0 UFC)
Fight Breakdown – Cariaso isn’t like a Renan Barao or Joseph Benavidez when it comes to explosive striking ability, but he does have a solid base in kickboxing and he should have the upper hand in the stand up. We haven’t seen much of Smolka and he’s only got one fight in the UFC, which he won. The guy finishes fights, but Cariaso is a huge step up in competition for him and will easily be his toughest match-up to date. Smolka may surprise everyone and hold his own in the stand up, and maybe even have the advantage. He’s got good striking defense, but again, we haven’t seen enough of him on the big stage to know how good he really is. We do know that Smolka is a solid grappler, so look for this fight to stay standing until Smolka initiates the takedowns.
Cariaso would do well to keep Smolka off of him and go to work in the stand up. He’s got good leg kicks and could accomplish a lot by chopping away and slowing Smolka down. These guys are flyweights and one thing flyweights typically do is constantly move at a frenetic pace. Smolka is going to come at Cariaso and work to get him down. It’s going to be tough to get Smolka to hesitate enough to keep it purely standing, but Cariaso can accomplish that with well timed counters and shots to the body of Smolka. The more he tags and hurts Smolka when he’s on his way in, the less likely Smolka will want to keep coming in.
Smolka will want to throw caution to the wind and secure the W by whatever means necessary. It’s true that Cariaso is the biggest test of his career, but Cariaso is also very beatable and Smolka has the goods to do it. It’s rare for a flyweight to have that one punch/kick KO power and Cariaso doesn’t have it. If Smolka is willing to eat a few dingers, he can close the gap and try to bring the fight to his world. Cariaso is no slouch as a grappler and he has solid takedown defense, but at least it’s where Smolka wants the fight to be, and not just completely in the standup.
Key to Victory: Can Smolka break through?
Double entendre aside, Smolka will stand a much better chance of winning if he can close in on Cariaso and control him. It might not be the most exciting or crowd pleasing style, but it will increase his chances of winning, which is what really matters when it comes down to it. If he can’t get past Cariaso’s stand up and counterstriking, he may keep it competitive, but it’s not his game plan. He has to close the distance and make it a grappling match.
Why It Matters – Cariaso is the #10 guy in the flyweight division. He’s strung together back to back wins after losing two in a row and he’s looked pretty good in both of them. But his ceiling seems set in stone and if you take a look at his losses, it’s mostly elite guys. There’s no shame in losing to Renan Barao, John Moraga and Michael McDonald. So he’s no slouch, but he has trouble when it comes to stepping up the competition. He’s playing the gatekeeper here, as it’s only Smolka’s second fight in the UFC and he’s nowhere near the top 15…yet. If he wants to keep building on his momentum, a strong win over Smolka would be huge.
Smolka on the other hand, has a huge opportunity. This is really a gift for him, and it’s a very winnable fight. Getting the #10 guy in the division in only your second fight? It’s a golden opportunity for Smolka to make huge gains in the division. And the downside isn’t bad either. If he wins, he looks like a future contender and will garner some notice. If he loses? So what? It’s only his second fight in the Octagon and he wasn’t ready for quite that big of a jump yet. He’s got a great opportunity here, but he may not be quite ready to seize the moment over a tough veteran like Cariaso, who is on a roll right now.
Prediction – Cariaso
Tags: chris cariaso, Louis Smolka, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC Fight Night 40