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Staff sgt. returns to UFC ring Saturday in San Antonio

Jun. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
MMA: UFC-Fight for the Troops-Smith vs Chiesa
Staff Sgt. Colton Smith, left, squares off with Michael Chiesa during their Nov. 6 lightweight bout at Fort Campbell, Ky. Smith lost via second-round submission. (Joshua Lindsey/USA Today Sports)
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Staff Sgt. Colton Smith smiles during a sparring session last year in Killeen, Texas. (Mike Morones/Staff)

UFC Fight Night 44

When and where: Saturday night, AT&T Center, San Antonio
TV: Fox Sports 1
Air time: Staff Sgt. Colton Smith will fight during the preliminary card, which begins at 8 p.m. Eastern. The main card starts at 10 p.m.
Updates: Can’t watch? Follow along with the card at MMAJunkie.com.

After two straight losses, the only full-time service member in the UFC faces what could be a career-defining fight Saturday night in San Antonio.

And thanks to preparing for this fight like a full-time fighter — a first for Staff Sgt. Colton Smith — he is more than ready for it.

“Before training camp, I knew my next fight, you have to win it,” said Smith, who’ll face Carlos Diego Ferreira at UFC Fight Night 44. “You have to stay above the curve to stay in the UFC. I understand that.

“But I’m so confident that there’s really, honestly, not a whole lot of pressure on my back. I’ll have my hand raised. It’s pretty simple.”

The active-duty soldier — he recently made the promotion list — had always considered himself a part-time fighter, despite his UFC contract and “The Ultimate Fighter” crown he earned 2012. This time out, however, he stepped away from his duties as senior combatives instructor at Fort Hood, Texas, to train in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with elite mixed martial-arts coach Greg Jackson.

He also got to learn from a stable of MMA legends including Keith Jardine, Alistair Overeem, Diego Sanchez and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who’s set to main-event a UFC event in July and who Smith got to work with one-on-one.

“I stacked up plenty of leave,” Smith (3-3, 1-2 UFC) said in a Wednesday telephone interview. “It’s interesting to see where I match up in the room with those guys. They welcomed me with open arms, and they love the military. It’s a good relationship I built back there in Albuquerque — not only for my skill set, but for my instructor skill set.”

Smith, 26, said he learned plenty of tips and techniques from Jackson, who has worked with special operations forces from multiple nations, to take with him back to his Fort Hood classes.

The combatives program will be well-represented in San Antonio. Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Farris, the program’s noncommissioned officer in charge, will be in Smith’s corner, and the fighter expects at least 50 soldiers to make the 2½-hour trip from Fort Hood, along with an assortment of battle buddies from his two Iraq tours, other friends, and family from his Iowa home.

“This is kind of a hometown crowd for me,” he said.

Win or go home?

Smith had overwhelming crowd support his last time out as well, fighting at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in November during a UFC “Fight for the Troops” event. He lost via second-round submission to Michael Chiesa, dropping his second straight fight.

His last win was in December 2012, when he beat Mike Ricci by decision to claim top honors for season 16 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show and earn his pro contract.

Ferreira enters the fight undefeated at 9-0, but has never fought in the UFC.

That debut can be “pretty nerve-wracking, with all the cameras and the interviews,” Smith said. “I know he’s dangerous — what he does good at, he’s very good at. But he definitely has a lot of holes I’d like to exploit.”

Thanks to the full fight camp, the Ranger-tabbed staff sergeant said he’ll enter Saturday’s fight with a more complete game plan than any of his previous bouts. And he’ll have a conditioning edge, too, after training at 7,000 feet above sea level with workouts like “The Filthy 50,” which he shared with Army Times readers last year.

(He does that workout about once a week, he said: “It’s just a good psychological boost, because it sucks. You get about a third of the way though, you’re hurting real bad.”)

Physically and mentally prepped, Smith said he hopes to put on a show for his target audience.

“All my fights are dedicated to the men and women overseas. I want to do my part, put a smile on their face, let them know somebody is thinking about them. ... Give them an entertaining fight, get my hand raised and give them a salute on national TV.”

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