Despite being a heavy underdog going into Saturday night's The Ultimate Fighter season 16 finale, Colton Smith overcame the odds and actually dominated fellow finalist Mike Ricci to take the welterweight tournament crown.
Ricci, a product of the famed TriStar Gym in Montreal, was the early favorite to win the show, so Smith's impressive beatdown of the Canadian certainly came as a surprise. Showcasing some serious wrestling skills throughout the fight, this aspect of Smith's game will be the key to his success in such a stacked welterweight division.
What really impressed me about Smith's game was his relentless pressure from bell to bell. Constantly attacking from up close, securing takedowns and even threatening with multiple submissions, the former Army Ranger showed a well-rounded arsenal that will be important assets if he wants to ascend the divisional ladder.
If we take a look at the top welterweights in the UFC right now, everyone from the champ Georges St-Pierre to rising challengers such as Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald all utilize their relentless wrestling skills to dictate the pace of their fights.
While I'm not saying Smith's wrestling is at that level yet, the fact that he's able to out-grapple one of GSP's training partners shows that he's got some moves on the ground.
Obviously, wrestling is key to succeeding in mixed martial arts, regardless of a fighter's weight class; for some reason, welterweights seem to have that certain body type that's just made for athletic and explosive takedowns. Before we can rank Smith among the list of rising contenders, he must duplicate this type of wrestling performance against a few veterans of the division.
In addition to his wrestling, Smith impressed me by constantly pressuring Ricci with attacks from a variety of positions. Smith seemed to be always beat the Canadian to the punch on the inside and kept tight control on the ground, highlighted by his multiple rear-naked choke attempts.
This varied, yet constant attack showed an intelligent integration of all the weapons at the disposal of a fighter in MMA and a killer instinct that will benefit Smith against the rest of the division.
Such a smart game plan mixed with his clear determination to win at any cost makes me believe that Smith will at least be able to hang with the middle of the welterweight pack.