The Ultimate Fighter 16 winner Colton Smith saw himself coming, even if nobody else did.

With a record of 2-1 upon his entry into the reality series, Smith came in with a reputation for finishing fights, but his lack of experience made him somewhat of an underdog. However, despite the detractors, he kept his nose to the grindstone and achieved his short-term goal of fighting for the UFC with a decision win over Mike Ricci in the finals of the TUF tournament.

Now, Smith prepares for his first fight since winning the six-figure contract. In a way, it’s still a TUF competition, but this time it’s a question of which TUF champion is the best. Smith’s fight comes against The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes welterweight winner Robert Whittaker. Smith took the fight with just ten weeks to go before UFC 160, which should not surprise anyone, given his fighting spirit.

“[The UFC] asked me if I wanted to fight Whittaker and, obviously, I obliged,” Smith told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “Whittaker’s a pretty talented young kid. It’s going to be a good fight, and I’m excited to showcase my skills.”

Smith (Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports)

At this stage of his career, the 25-year-old already holds the potential to emerge as a solid welterweight with dangerous grappling and strong wrestling. Also, Smith’s youth grants him plenty of time to blend his current skills in with some newer ones, a feat which he can begin to achieve against Whittaker.

“Exponentially, I’m learning how to link it all together,” Smith said, “from my striking to my wrestling, to my jiu-jitsu, back to my wrestling, back on the feet to my striking. That’s something that most people want to see.”

Against Whittaker, Smith will look to put it all together versus a man he best defines as an athletic and powerful striker. At 22 years of age, Whittaker actually carries the edge in experience. However, Smith will come prepared.

Training with fellow Army Ranger and former two-time Strikeforce middleweight title contender Tim Kennedy, Smith found a selfless individual and a “big brother” figure who opened his doors to him. Receiving the knowledge needed to better himself as a fighter, Smith was inspired to hopefully one day do for another soldier what Kennedy did for him.

Smith (R) works to choke Ricci (Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports)

Of course, he will face a stiff test against Whittaker. Predominantly a finisher, Whittaker only recently scored his first career decision win. Still, Whittaker has never before faced a fighter who with Smith’s particular style of fighting.

“There’s not going to be any easy fights, I know that and I’m glad,” Smith admitted. “I’m not in it for the fame or the money. Robert Whittaker’s a very formidable challenge for me, and I see him coming out powerfully. With that being said, I feel I can stand fine with him or on the ground. He’s dangerous, though. I need to respect what Robert Whittaker brings to the table.”

With a win on Saturday, Smith would move to 2-0 in the UFC, but don’t expect him to pick his next opponent. As far as he’s concerned, UFC matchmakers Sean Shelby and Joe Silva, along with UFC President Dana White, will do that job for him. In fact, Smith will admit that he needs only one thing, just in case he gets the call for a short-notice fight.

“I don’t need to get ready. I’m going to stay ready.”

Colton would like to thank his supporters, coaches and sponsors, including Alienware.

Photo: Colton Smith (MMA Junkie)