Very few things are certain when it comes to the UFC lightweight division.
Benson Henderson is the champion. Barring injury, he will make the first defense of his crown later this year against the man he snatched it from, Frankie Edgar.
Beyond that, little is cut in stone. For example, it is nearly impossible to state with certainty who sits in the number one contender spot. Is it Anthony Pettis, the last man to defeat Henderson? What about former champion and future Hall of Famer BJ Penn? Don’t pay any attention to his retirement talk. This guy will fight again. I’m as certain of that as death and taxes. What about Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, who is one of the most talented lightweights on the planet not currently competing in the UFC? Some would actually argue that he is the best of the best, period.
Of course, we cannot forget perennial contenders Nate Diaz and Jim Miller. The pair will square off on in the main event of the UFC’s third live broadcast on FOX this Saturday night. Many believe that the winner will move to the head of the championship challenger queue. A boring win probably won’t “get ‘er done,” to quote Larry the Cable Guy. If, however, the winner scores a decisive victory or survives a thrilling back-and-forth war, then I definitely agree with the masses. The winner will almost certainly stand next in line.
A likely title eliminator on network television in primetime. How is that for pressure? Pretty intense, isn’t it?
Many fighters cave in the face of such pressure. They go out and fight not to lose, rather than fighting to win. It makes for disastrous television.
While I cannot guarantee anything, it seems extremely unlikely that Diaz and Miller will do anything other than let it all hang out in front of millions of viewers in a desperate attempt to secure their first shot at a UFC championship. The statistics back up that claim, too.
Diaz is one of the most decorated post-fight award winners in UFC history. More than half of his 15 trips to the Octagon resulted in an “of the night” bonus, making him one of the most thrilling fighters in the sport today. Miller doesn’t quite rise to Diaz’s level, in terms of fan-friendly outings, but he is no slouch. One quarter of his UFC bouts earned him a lucrative and career-enhancing post-fight bonus.
It’s no accident that these guys are headlining UFC on FOX 3. UFC President Dana White expects it to be a barnburner, with the winner being perfectly positioned to present himself to the world as the next in line for the winner of Henderson-Edgar II.
This fight is extremely easy to break down. It is the quintessential striker versus grappler bout, with a twist.
There is no doubt that Diaz wants to keep the fight on the feet. His standup game, though extremely unorthodox, is one of the most effective in the division. He is basically a carbon copy of his older brother Nick. Nate walks down opponents from a southpaw stance. He paws with both hands, reaching out as if he is trying to grasp his opponent’s wrists. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he turns a paw into a slapping shot.
Normally, slapping shots are ineffective. The Diaz brothers have somehow figured out how to turn those shots into whipping, effective punches. Neither has true one-punch knockout power. They instead swarm opponents and overwhelm them with activity.
Nate absolutely wants to do that against Miller. His game plan is to use non-stop offense as a way to defend. He wants to keep his hands moving and completely forget about kicks, unless they are at the end of punches. That is OK because Diaz isn’t much of a kicker in the first place. He is a technically brilliant brawler who uses unyielding pressure to break an opponent’s will before breaking his body.
Miller, by contrast, is more of a reactionary fighter, rather than an aggressive predator. He has serviceable standup, but his bread and butter is getting foes to the ground and either beating them up or, far more likely, using his ground-and-pound attack to force his opponent to give up his back to try and escape the onslaught and then sinking in a choke. He did exactly that in his last fight.
Facing the ultra-explosive and always entertaining Melvin Guillard, Miller had to wade through extremely deep waters after getting dominated on the feet early in the first round. But before the round ended, he found a way to get it to the ground and he used his impressive ground skills to secure a submission through superior ground control and excellent grappling technique.
A black belt under Jamie Cruz, Miller is a vastly underrated submission specialist. Most consider him a wrestler first. I disagree. I view him as a top-focused ground fighter, one who equally blends wrestling, BJJ and ground-and-pound. His major weakness, however, remains both his standup and his inability to really offer dangerous submissions from his back against top opponents.
It stands to reason that Diaz will seek to exploit the first of those weaknesses, but won’t have the takedown chops to try and take advantage of the second. Diaz will almost certainly want to use his tremendous height and reach advantages to keep the action on the outside in order to help avoid the takedown. If the takedown comes, he won’t panic. That is the twist. Diaz is a black belt under Cesar Gracie, so he is one of the more comfortable fighters from his back in the division.
I will actually take that one step further. Diaz has one of the most spectacular offensive guards in the division. He isn’t intimidated by being on his back against anyone.
The reality, though, is he has struggled from his back with guys who posses great top games and very good submission defense. Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida both fit that description, and they each ground out victories over the former reality television star. Thus, it is tough to imagine him having success from his back against a top-focused fighter like Miller, who, as mentioned above, is also a black belt.
Miller has only three losses in his professional career. All three came against superior wrestlers – Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard and Benson Henderson. He has faced many, many superior strikers, and has defeated each of them. That suggests that he should be able to pass the Diaz test, since the Stockton native is nowhere near Miller in terms of wrestling skills.
I’m not so sure. Diaz presents a different sort of standup game than anything that Miller has ever seen before. He doesn’t overcommit, like Guillard did. He is rarely out of position. And he is becoming better and better at incorporating his sprawl into his boxing.
If Diaz is able to keep the fight off the ground, he wins easy. Sure, Miller could win by shocking knockout. He blasted Kamal Shalorus out of there with a series of punches followed by a knee just over a year ago. Anyone can get knocked out on any given night in mixed martial arts. But Diaz isn’t Shalorus. And Miller isn’t winning this fight by knockout – not on the feet, at least.
Can I see Diaz winning by slick submission from his back or maybe catching a standing guillotine? Sure. A Cesar Gracie black belt has the ability to win any fight by submission if an opponent makes a mistake. It just isn’t likely, because Miller is extremely good from the top.
This fight is a tough fight to call, when it is all said and done. All I know for certain is that it has all the ingredients of a great fight. If forced to pick, I’m currently leaning toward Diaz. He has more tools in his arsenal, and he is arguably coming off the two most impressive performances of his professional career – utter dominations of Takanori Gomi and Donald Cerrone.
Then again, when I started writing this piece a couple of hours ago, my mind was leaning toward Miller, a guy who has only lost once in his last nine fights. And that was to reigning champion Henderson. If he can get Diaz to the ground and keep him there, this could be one of the more intriguing and fast-paced ground battles of the year.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll lean toward a draw. Who knows?
Who do you think will win and why? Fill up the comment section below. I’ll be reading, as always.
• 27 years old
• 155 lbs
• 76-inch reach
• 15-7 overall
• 3-2 in last 5
• 5-5 in last 10
• 66.7% of wins by submission
• 20.0% of wins by KO/TKO
• 13.3% of wins by decision
• Has only been stopped once as a professional, armbar loss in 2006
• 53.3% of UFC fights resulted in post-fight award (Submission of the Night 3x, Fight of the Night 5x)
• Ultimate Fighter Season 5 winner
• Current layoff is 127 days
• Longest layoff of career is 310 days
• 28 years old
• 5’8, 155 lbs
• 71-inch reach
• 21-3 overall
• 4-1 in last 5
• 8-2 in last 10
• 14.3% of wins by KO/TKO
• 57.1% of UFC wins by submission
• 28.6% of UFC wins by decision
• Has never been stopped in his professional career
• 25% of UFC fights resulted in post-fight award (Submission of the Night 3x, Fight of the Night)
• Current layoff is 106 days
• Longest layoff of career is 172 days
The Blueprint - Diaz vs. Miller
Michael DiSanto breaks down Saturday's UFC on FOX 3 main event between Nate Diaz and Jim Miller...