Mike Ricci sports five finishes among his seven victories. | Photo: Sherdog.com
“The Ultimate Fighter 16” Welterweight Final
Mike Ricci (7-2, 0-0 UFC) vs. Colton Smith (3-1, 0-0 UFC)
The Matchup: When he is not offering tips on nightlife and fashion to talented Tristar Gym teammate Rory MacDonald, Ricci is a pretty good fighter in his own right -- perhaps the most promising of this entire “Ultimate Fighter” cast.
To earn his spot in the finale, “The Martian” displayed a well-rounded skill set in dispatching Jason South, Dom Waters, Michael Hill and Neil Magny. However, Ricci had already acquired plenty of valuable experience prior to his appearance on the reality show, including bouts against Strikeforce talent Jordan Mein, “The Ultimate Fighter 15” alum Daron Cruickshank and Bellator Fighting Championships featherweight king Pat Curran.
Smith, who took out Jesse Barrett, Eddy Ellis, Igor Araujo and Jon Manley on the show, has not faced nearly the same quality of opposition in his professional career. However, the 25-year-old Army Ranger’s relentless pressure and wrestling makes him a tough out regardless of experience.
There were some questions as to whether Ricci, a natural lightweight, would be able to advance through a bracket of predominantly larger foes. The onetime Bellator competitor silenced the doubters with his in-cage performance, particularly in the semifinals, where he authored the highlight of the entire season by knocking Magny out cold with a vicious elbow. Lauded by coach Shane Carwin as the most technical fighter in the house, the southpaw Ricci is comfortable exchanging on the feet, landing ground-and-pound from top position or transitioning to take his opponent’s back on the mat.
Smith has a much more basic approach. Though much can change from the taping of the reality series to the finale, the Virginian relies primarily on his wrestling to win fights. Smith will throw a few jabs before powering forward into the clinch, where he favors an outside trip to get the action to the canvas. Once there, Smith can be suffocating in landing elbows, punches and knees from top position; just recall the assault that earned him a 10-8 second round against Ellis in the show’s Round of 16. However, Smith lacks the element of surprise and is vulnerable to well-placed counter strikes when he attempts to move into takedown range.
Ricci, who has decent power in his left hand and a solid array of leg and body kicks, can make Smith pay for not disguising his intentions.
The Pick: Ricci is just too skilled and experienced. As long as he weathers the takedowns of Smith, he earns a decision.
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