Chris Weidman recalls, with great speed and ease, the first time he mixed it up with Gian Villante.

"Yeah, I smoked him," Weidman said.

Villante remembers the same event, but in slightly less ego-bruising terminology.

"I was a sophomore, I wasn't very good yet," Villante said. "He'll bring that up, but I still bring up that I was an All-American in high school and he wasn't, so ha ha ha."

Of course, that was in high school some 10 years ago. Weidman was a junior on the Baldwin High School wrestling team, Villante a sophomore at MacArthur in Levittown.

That was their first encounter, and there have been many more since. Together, the former high school and college wrestlers now serve as training partners. Young mixed martial artists both aiming for the same thing: a successful, lucrative career.

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Weidman, 26, and Villante, 25, each have fights Friday at Ring of Combat 33 at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Ring of Combat is a well-respected regional MMA promotion run by Lou Neglia of Bellmore and responsible for launching the careers of more than 30 UFC fighters, including former welterweight champion Matt Serra of East Meadow and current lightweight champion Frankie Edgar of Toms River, N.J.

Weidman defends his middleweight title against Valdir Arraujo, and Villante pursues the vacant light-heavyweight championship against Joseph Keneth.

Villante (6-1) is where Weidman was 10 weeks ago: his first fight back from an injury. At Ring of Combat 29 in April, Villante dislocated his elbow in both directions and tore several ligaments.

"It was like a loaf of bread," said Villante, who trains at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy under the watch of Keith Trimble. "It was huge. It was swollen and purple from my wrist all the way up to my armpit. It was bad."

If he was a professional pitcher, he'd have needed Tommy John surgery. But he only throws punches, not baseballs. So, no surgery. Just some physical therapy. OK, lots of physical therapy. Five days a week worth of physical therapy.

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"In the beginning, if I missed a jab and hyperextended my elbows, it would go numb," Villante said. "But not anymore. It just took time, more than anything else. And I'm not really a patient person. Mentally, in the beginning, I was a little shot."

Weidman, who earned All-American wrestling honors twice at Nassau CC and twice at Hofstra, returned to fighting in September after more than a year away. When Weidman finally did step into the cage, he defeated highly regarded prospect Uriah Hall by first-round TKO. It restored Weidman's confidence and catapulted him to the top of the "Who's Next?" discussions.

"My last two fights were so long ago, I felt like I was starting all over again," Weidman said.

Weidman (3-0), who trains with Serra and noted striking coach Ray Longo in Garden City, has garnered serious interest from Bellator Fighting Championships. And he impressed at tryouts for Season 13 of "The Ultimate Fighter" earlier this month in Las Vegas. Weidman has yet to hear from UFC or Spike. But his pedigree and connections can't hurt. Ray Longo's MMA Academy has sent Serra, Pete "Drago" Sell and Luke Cummo onto previous seasons of "TUF."

At the very least, all that work is extra grappling and striking practice for the man who defends the Ring of Combat middleweight championship belt Friday. "It's cool to have a belt," Weidman said. "But I'm not ending my career being satisfied with the Ring of Combat championship. I have a lot more I want to do."