Perhaps because of his nondescript name, UFC lightweight Jim Miller hasn’t always received as much attention as his record would suggest he should. That might change this Saturday at New Jersey’s Izod Center under the biggest spotlight of Miller’s MMA career, but only if he can get past a big roadblock in the form of Nate Diaz.
Miller and Diaz will face off in the main event of the second UFC on Fox broadcast of 2012, an event that promises intrigue on several fronts. Not only could it go a long way toward cementing the top contender status of several fighters, it’s also another test of the UFC brand, as the men at the top of this card probably have the least mainstream name recognition of any to appear on Fox thus far.
Based strictly on performances alone, Miller (21-3, 10-2 in the UFC) deserves to be a bigger deal. The 28-year old New Jersey native excels at working for submissions on the ground, yet his toughness and motor enable him to grind out rounds with his striking if need be. His three pro losses have come against some of the very best: current UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson, former champ Frankie Edgar (during their pre-UFC days) and perennial top contender Gray Maynard.
Diaz (15-7, 10-5 UFC) might belong in that class too, especially now that two straight wins suggest that he’s settled back in at 155 pounds. Like his mercurial older brother Nick, the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu product can cause problems with his boxing or his ground work. Wherever the action goes, excitement usually follows, as he’s racked up five ‘Fight of the Night’ awards in his 15 appearances in the octagon.
The physical advantages that Diaz might be able to put to use are his four inches of extra height and five-inch longer reach. He’s shown in the past that he knows how to keep opponents at bay with his jab, and while he may not quite be the technician that his older sibling is, he’s extremely accurate when he lets his hands go.
Still, jabs alone won’t be sufficient to dissuade Miller, who will look to exchange from closer range or try for takedowns. If the fight ends up on the mat, it should be a toss-up between two fighters who know their Jiu-Jitsu extremely well.
Though things are always subject to change in the UFC, Dana White has already stated that Diaz will get a title shot if he wins. Miller’s stock has never been higher than it is headed into the fight, so it’s reasonable to assume he’d be on a very short list of candidates to face Henderson if he comes out on top.
The welterweight co-feature between Josh Koscheck and Johny Hendricks also has serious title shot implications. The picture at 170 pounds is muddled thanks to the continuing absence of injured champion Georges St-Pierre, but the winner on Saturday night figures to be right in the mix to face GSP or interim champ Carlos Condit sooner rather than later.
If it’s Koscheck (17-5, 15-5 UFC), it may be a harder sell, as he already owns two losses to St-Pierre. Yet it will be hard to deny him if he adds a third victory in a row, and if nothing else, the UFC mainstay has proven that he’s most dangerous when people are doubting him or writing him off.
In Hendricks (12-1, 7-1 UFC), Koscheck will be facing a fighter very similar to his previous opponent, Mike Pierce: a younger guy cut from the Koscheck mold of an outstanding wrestling base backed by knockout power in the stand-up game. The difference is that Hendricks is possibly the most heavy-handed of the three, as evidenced by his stunning 12-second stoppage of Jon Fitch at UFC 141.
This one has all the makings of a classic experience versus youth battle where no outcome would truly be a shocker. The oddsmakers like Hendricks, who will add the biggest name yet to his list of victims if he comes through.
Middleweights Rousimar Palhares and Alan Belcher will both look to keep their three-fight winning streaks alive when they face off earlier on the televised portion of the card. With 17 of their combined opponents forced to tap out, this is a good place to start when looking for a potential Submission of the Night.
A master of the heel hook, Palhares (14-3, 7-2 UFC) is coming off a short night against Mike Massenzio at UFC 142 thanks to that very move. A short, compact middleweight, he’ll try to get the fight to the ground and work his magic from there.
At 6-foot-2, Belcher (17-6, 8-4 UFC) will look like he’s towering over Palhares. His best bet will be to use that height advantage and his more dangerous striking to control the action. His status as a decent sized underdog means not many observers think he’ll be able to pull it off.
The biggest fighters of the night will take the octagon in the Fox opener. Heavyweights Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson will go head to head in a bout that feels like it will be short but explosive.
Barry (7-4, 4-4 UFC) is an experienced kickboxer who made a relatively late career transition to MMA. He’s susceptible to grapplers, though he showed some escape ability against Christian Morecraft in January, working free from an armbar attempt to earn a first-round KO.
He shouldn’t have to worry about fighting off too many takedowns from Johnson (16-5, 1-0 UFC), who has either finished or been finished in every bout in his pro career. The 34-year old will likely be glad to stand and trade with Barry, especially if he can land his shots first using his significant reach advantage.
As with prior shows on Fox, six fights will air on Fuel TV and two more streamed on Facebook before the main card kicks off. The smaller guys will get plenty of time to shine thanks to three flyweight contests and one at bantamweight, and a number of fighters will be making either their first or second trips into the octagon.