colton-smith-6.jpg(This story first appeared in today’s USA TODAY.)

NASHVILLE – Tim Kennedy, Liz Carmouche and Colton Smith are among the top-billed fighters at tonight’s “UFC Fight Night 31: UFC Fight for the Troops 3.” Not long ago they could have been among the 4,000 or so uniformed military personnel who will be admitted free to the event instead of being the entertainment at the one-of-a-kind show.

The 13-fight lineup (FOX Sports 1, 5 p.m. ET) continues the UFC’s unique fight series, where the organization ventures to a military base to put on a show for troops and their families. This latest one, at Fort Campbell’s Sabre Air Field in Kentucky, supports the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

The UFC’s first two Troops shows, in 2008 and 2011, raised more than $4 million for the charity. While the military events lack the glitz of pay-per-view and the glamour of Las Vegas and other popular host sites, the UFC had no shortage of volunteers. Kennedy, a former Green Beret sniper and weapons specialist, was among the first.

“I was begging, pleading, imploring, soliciting, offering – anything I can do to everyone in the UFC to get on this card,” said Kennedy (16-4 MMA, 0-1 UFC), who headlines the card opposite middleweight Rafael Natal (17-4-1 MMA, 5-2-1 UFC).

Carmouche, too, was quick to volunteer. After nearly pulling off a submission upset of undefeated champion Ronda Rousey earlier this year, the former Marine Corps helicopter electrician is back in the title hunt. She jumped at the UFC’s offer to put her on tonight’s card.

Carmouche (9-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC), who meets tough Canadian bantamweight Alexis Davis (14-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) in the co-headliner, had her eye on a professional fighting career while she was still serving. And though many other fighters followed the same path, she said it’s not a guarantee of success in the cage.

“It depends on who you are in your military career,” she said. “If you’re one of those people who’s lazy and doesn’t really go for anything, then no, (the military) isn’t going to prepare you for fighting.

“But if you’re one of those go-getters and one of those people trying to be the best you can be, then it will translate to MMA because you have the discipline you need.”

Smith (3-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC), the card’s only active military member, knows all about discipline. The U.S. Army Ranger, who meets Michael Chiesa (9-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC), is balancing two grueling careers, though he considers one of them a relative walk in the park. So he hopes to give his military brethren a night of entertainment.

“What the troops do overseas, it’s hard, but what we (MMA fighters) do is easy,” he said. “I’m fighting in the cage, and worst-case scenario, I … get knocked out.

“Worst-case scenario in combat, you’re losing a buddy to your left and right. You’re coming back missing a limb, missing eyesight, PTSD, TBI – serious stuff.

“There’s nothing in my MMA career that’s been as hard as seeing the rigors of war.”

For the latest on UFC Fight Night 31, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

(Pictured: Colton Smith)

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