When we last left our heroes...Chiesa is one of those rare fighters of the TUF boom era (Finale boomers?) who actually approximates what kind of fighter the show was capable of producing when it debuted.
In addition, he was a welcome break from the usual narrative of "will ultimate fighter contestant John Smith be able to handle the abundance of alcohol and stupidity surrounding him while he contributes with his own drunken antics?!"
Losing his father who lost his battle with leukemia made for a compelling, and tragic story. In the cage he's been strong, winning his first two UFC fights by rear naked choke. While he lost to Jorge Masvidal, there was nothing shameful about his performance given how close he was to seemingly finishing the fight.
If Chiesa is the anomaly of the modern TUF prototype, Colton Smith is the proverbial one.
He's 1-1 in the UFC, with a style that is anything but dynamic. With a win over Mike Ricci, and a loss to Robert Whitaker, it's hard to say much about Smith's future. He's still fairly young, so how well he continues to prove is anyone's guess.
What both men can do: Not many fans will admit in public to liking Smith's style, which is fine. I'm not here to defend his style, or to claim that his style is secretly avant-garde or something. But I do appreciate the way his wrestling compliments his grappling. He does a really good job of placing his arms and legs in the correct spot, always remaining square with his opponent that way they can't just sidestep an attempted takedown. His striking is decent by the standards of 'blowing smoke up the reader's ass'.
Chiesa's strength is the one thing he doesn't get enough credit for; his wrestling. Or maybe he does and I just haven't been paying attention. But he's strong in the clinch and once on the ground, he's persistent when it comes to looking for the submision. In addition, his striking has gotten a lot better; something that was evident against Masvidal when he momentarily rocked him.
What both men can't do: Chiesa still has much to learn on the feet. He doesn't always keeps his hands where they should be, and this is exacerbated by his on and off again cardio problems. Against Smith, he can't afford to have the gas tank for only one round.
Against Smith, he won't have to worry about that much though, which is why this fight is so straightforward to predict. Smith can only strike in close when his opponent is swinging wildly with him. He has zero boxing at range, and essentially just relies on his dogged pursuit of the takedown to ensure he doesn't take damage.
X-Factor: One of the things that's often hard to predict is a fighter's improvement. Anyone remember Cain Velasquez vs. Big Nog before they actually fought? There's just no way anyone could have predicted Nog would get eviscerated like that on the feet.
I can hear your assumption from here, dear reader. "Wait...you think Colton Smith is gonna turn into Cain Velasquez overnight?" Not to worry. What I'm saying is that Smith may be brutally beaten worse than we all think.
I guess it's unfair to not give Smith a chance at all, but if the referee stoppage fits....
I would argue that Smith shouldn't be taken lightly regardless. If Chiesa gets worn down by trying to pry Smith off of him, who knows what could happen.
Prediction: Michael Chiesa by rear naked choke, round 2.