Mike Ricci has gotten the lion's share of the attention heading into Saturday night's welterweight finale of "The Ultimate Fighter 16." That's in part because the Montreal native has the opportunity to become the first Canadian ever to win a "TUF" crown. It doesn't hurt that he trains at Tri-Star with Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald, either. And, this week in particular, it's because he's been vehement in expressing just how much he disliked his experience living in the "TUF" house.
But there are, in fact, two competitors stepping into the Octagon for the TUF title on Saturday night at Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Unlike his opponent, Colton Smith isn't carrying an entire country's expectations on his shoulders, and his home gym doesn't boast one of the UFC's biggest pay-per-view draws.
And for that matter, the Ft. Hood, Texas resident isn't viewing his "TUF" experience as one big downer, either, completing the circle of differences between him and his Saturday night foe.
"Yeah, it's a great experience," Smith during a recent media teleconference. "Sixteen really good fighters in the house together. I kind of know what to expect. I've been in that situation before away from my family, away from my element as far as not having outside communication with the outside world. But it was a great experience."
In part, that's down to the quality of guest coaches Roy Nelson brought into the house. The 24-year old Smith has just four official professional fights, three of which have been in the past 18 months. So the opportunity to train with some of the sport's greats weren't just training sessions, they were learning experiences.
"Roy brought in so many unbelievable coaches, Rashad Evans, The Skrap Pack, Royce Gracie and guys my size who have made it to the top," said Smith, whose three wins have all come via first-round submission. "That was very great learning from guys like that, guys that are around my size, guys that have made it to the top and remain at the top; Jake Shields, Gil Melendez, guys like that. So, all in all, it's obviously a great thing. Nothing negative should ever come from being a part of ‘The Ultimate Fighter' unless you get kicked out or you act like a fool. So all in all it was a good experience.
"As far as Rashad Evans goes, I was very, very impressed with his coaching abilities and he did very well coaching us on cage work and striking from the clinch and that was definitely an eye opener for me and something to put in my tool bag. So, ultimately you got to thank ‘Big Country' for bringing in the Skrap Pack and Rashad Evans."
Since leaving the "TUF" house, Smith, who has trained for Saturday's fight with the likes of Tim Kennedy and Andrew Craig, has felt the same changes of other previously obscure fighters who have suddenly been all over television. But he said he's taking his newfound measure of fame in stride.
"That was kind of a shock a little bit," Smith said. "Obviously people constantly contacting you and people come out of the woodworks but Dana White said it good. Before we left the house Dana sat us down and said before you came on this show remember who your friends and you family were and just keep them.
"You know, don't worry about all the new people coming into your life, usually opinions or something negative or for money, or they want some fame as well. So just staying pretty level headed and nothing really changed in my life. I'm living in the same house I lived in, doing everything - same thing I do. Just training harder and training with better people."