The latest edition of UFC on FOX takes place Saturday courtesy of New Jersey’s IZOD Center. Big” Lavar Johnson (16-5) will look to make his sophomore appearance in the organization a success when he stands against fellow banger “HD” Pat Barry (7-4). The middleweights are next as “The Talent” Alan Belcher (17-6) squares off with “Toquinho” Rousimar Palhares (14-3). Welterweights “Big Rig” Johny Hendricks (12-1) and “Kos” Josh Koscheck (17-5) square off in the co-main event. In the night’s closer, Nate Diaz (15-7) looks to tie together a three-fight win streak, but that would come at a steep price against “The Mongoose” Jim Miller (21-3). Both men have the contender status attached to their name with just cause but after Saturday, only one can make the step closer to gold.
At First Glance: With the lightweight division in another standstill with former champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-2) looking to regain his title against newly-crowned “Smooth” Ben Henderson (16-2), the title for the next perennial contender can be decided as Nate Diaz and Jim Miller duke it out. Diaz easily tore through “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi (33-8) and “Cowboy” Donald Cerrone (17-4) with a fine display of submission skill and striking, respectively, after returning to the lightweight division in late 2011. Should he overcome Miller, he makes a very solid case to be the next challenger for the 155lbs. strap. Miller was on his own run for title contention before hitting a speed bump in the form of Ben Henderson. After reaffirming his place in the division with an impressive submission victory over “The Young Assassin” Melvin Guillard (29-10-2-1), Miller will have to dispose the younger Diaz if he wishes to make his title aspirations come to light.
In Depth: The third presentation of UFC on Fox now gets to feature two of the more well-rounded fighters in the lighter divisions. Diaz may have had a lackluster start to his 2011 but ended it in on a high note with his striking to show for it. His bout with Gomi was impressive on its own but it was not until Diaz made former national and world Muay Thai champion, Donald Cerrone, look like an amateur as he landed 82% of his strikes, setting a new CompuStrike record in a three-round battle. Miller has formidable striking as well as he executed it to a T against “The Prince of Persia” Kamal Shalorus (7-2), but with Diaz’s striking hitting a newfound level, he would be over his head trying to outstrike or even outlast Diaz’s volume punching. Miller’s biggest strength in this battle is luckily Diaz’s biggest weakness: wrestling. “The Mongoose” has shown a strong affinity in bringing anyone down once he gets a good hold and Diaz just happens to follow along with superb body tossers. “Ares” Rory MacDonald (13-1) had a field day suplexing Diaz during his stay in welterweight but even at lightweight, “Daddy” Joe Stevenson (31-14) and “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (29-12) showed Diaz can be controlled to their liking. Miller’s wrestling is going to be his easiest route to victory. Miller at 5’8” gives up both reach and height to Diaz at 6’. For him to choose a stand-up war does not give him much to look forward to if he cannot find his way inside. Miller’s best plan of action is to simply power Diaz to the mat and hold him there where he would be relatively safe to rain down strikes.
Wild Card: Jiu-Jitsu in itself will be the biggest issue at hand when these two black belts of the art meet. Miller is a top-notch submission artist in his own right as a Kneebar over “Do Bronx” Charles Oliveira (15-2) and Rear Naked Choke over Melvin Guillard can attest, but Diaz’s Jiu-Jitsu is just lethal. With much of his credit to his brother Nick Diaz (26-8) and instructor Cesar Gracie, Diaz has stacked up six submission victories which includes other high-level practitioners such as Junior Assuncao (13-5) and “Batman” Kurt Pellegrino (16-7). The fight should play out at some point with Diaz on his back but with his active guard, where he can easily trouble Miller by locking in a submission or at least calling for the judges’ attention to be given points. For Miller, this is a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” situation. If he chooses to roll with Diaz, he has to be extremely cautious to not give up a limb or even space in which Diaz may capitalize. Should he choose to stand, he will have to find a way around Diaz’s reach and connect with more ferocity to gain his respect.
The Verdict: This truly is a match where on any given night, any fighter can win. While it is difficult to bet against the likes of Jim Miller, Diaz has shown that he is finally coming into his own as fighter. Do not expect Miller to be stopped due to Diaz’s volume punching or give the opportunity to be submitted. Unfortunately for “The Mongoose”, though, he will likely be sent back to the drawing board for some more fine tuning as “the kid from Stockton” advances just a little bit higher in the ranks. Diaz via Unanimous Decision