This Sunday night (August 14, 2011), two of the most talented lightweight fighters in the UFC today will wage war inside the Octagon in the UFC on Versus 5 co-main event as current top 155 pound contender Jim Miller takes on former WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson.
Jim Miller is riding high with a massive seven fight win streak in the lightweight division. If it were any other weight class, he'd have earned a title shot two fights ago. He's hoping this is his final test before getting a chance to avenge one of his two career losses, Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar.
Ben "Smooth" Henderson still has a chip on his shoulder. Despite an incredibly impressive track record in the WEC, he was humiliated by being on the receiving end of one of 2010's most incredible moves, the "Showtime Kick," which cost him his WEC lightweight title. He got back on track with a solid win in his UFC debut, but a victory over the #3 ranked fighter in the UFC 155 pound division would be the biggest feather in his cap yet.
Can Miller take care of business and earn his much-deserved title shot? Or will the upset-minded Henderson play spoiler? Which lightweight will earn perhaps the biggest victory of their career thus far?
Let's find out.
Record: 20-2 overall, 9-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Gray Maynard (UFC 96), Frankie Edgar (Reality Fighting 14)
How he got here: Jim Miller, one of the most consistent fighters in the UFC today, got his start on the New Jersey circuit in a couple promotions, Reality Fighting, Ring of Combat, even having one fight in the IFL before making his UFC debut against David Baron at UFC 89 all the way across the pond in England.
He would win handily, tapping his opponent with a third round rear naked choke. After another impressive win over The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five alumni Matt Wiman just two months later, he would face eventual title challenger Gray Maynard at UFC 96.
Miller would be outstruck in the stand-up over the course of three rounds, losing a unanimous decision, but that loss lit a fire under him.
Since then, the AMA Fight Club fighter has destroyed everyone in his path, winning seven straight in the division and vaulting his way up to one of the promotion's top lightweight contenders. His last two fights were especially impressive, catching Brazilian submission specialist Charles Oliveira with a kneebar while standing and then crushing then-undefeated WEC veteran Kamal Shalorus with a knee to the face to hand the world class British-Iranian wrestler the first loss of his career.
Miller is out for blood with a title shot on his mind, and he's very likely to earn it with a win on Sunday night against the former WEC champion.
How he gets it done: What makes Jim Miller so impressive?
The New Jersey native is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but also has a year of Division I collegiate wrestling at Virginia Tech to fall back on. He's put in a tremendous amount of time working on his striking and has become deadly with his technique, explosiveness and power.
The Mike Constantino-trained fighter is incredibly well-rounded as a fighter and now appears to have no weaknesses in his game. While the wrestling might be a wash against Henderson, Miller will hold an edge in submission ability as well as striking.
Look for Miller to keep this fight standing and try to absolutely work Ben Henderson on the feet with his technical jabs, ready to explode forward with a huge knee to the face when the opportunity arises.
The top contender won't be afraid to go to the ground either.
Despite Henderson's unique ability to avoid submissions, he's often found himself in bad situations. Miller will not be afraid to go for something if he sees an opportunity to attempt a choke or joint lock and he's confident enough in his jiu-jitsu to believe he can submit the former WEC champ.
Record: 13-2 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
How he got here: Ben Henderson is an animal. He was a two-time All-American at Division II Dana College while earning a double degree in criminal justice and sociology,
Instead of pursuing a career with his degree, he tried out amateur cagefighting, compiling a 2-1 amateur record and loving the sport enough to make it his job. It didn't take him long to be noticed. Henderson was fighting for Mark Pavelich's MFC within 18 months and earned an invite to the WEC just over two years into his professional career.
He was thrown into the fire immediately, facing vaunted striker Anthony Njokuani in his first fight, defeating him with an early second round guillotine choke. He would follow up that impressive showing by destroying top Oklahoma State wrestler Shane Roller with a technical knockout against the fence which earned him an interim WEC lightweight title shot against Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone at WEC 43.
Henderson was still green at the time, but he gutted through a multitude of submission attempts from the former bullrider, using his wrestling to outscore him positionally in what was voted Sherdog's 2009 "Fight of the Year." With the victory, he was the interim WEC lightweight champion.
His next fight was against the incumbent champ, Jamie Varner, and after a tough couple rounds, Henderson latched on a nasty guillotine choke at the midway point of the fight that forced an immediate tap to unite the titles.
He would battle Cerrone again at WEC 48, the first and only pay-per-view the promotion ever attempted. In what was expected to be a repeat of their first epic war, the "Smooth" one, choked out Cerrone in less than two minutes to defend his belt.
Henderson would fight one last time for the WEC before the promotion merged with the UFC's lightweight division, defending his title against the upstart Anthony Pettis. We all know how that played out, with the kick heard 'round the world. What some may forget, was the fight was incredibly close, entirely up for grabs until the final minute of round five.
In his UFC debut, the fighter out of Glendale, Arizona took on submission specialist Mark Bocek in front of 55,000 wild Canadian fans and thoroughly handled him over the course of three rounds to earn a unanimous decision and get back on track.
Facing Jim Miller on Sunday night will be the sternest test of his young career thus far.
How he gets it done: Henderson has improved his striking considerably, especially his Muay Thai knees, but he would be unwise to stand and trade in the pocket with Miller.
This is a fight that must be won positionally either in the clinch or with takedowns.
Don't be surprised one bit to see Henderson shoot for takedowns early and often, either actually putting Miller on his back or at least pushing him into the fence and working from there.
If he can put the New Jersey fighter on the ground, he'll likely try to work ground and pound from guard, not risking a sweep or allowing him back to his feet with a guard pass.
If he can't take Miller down, expect a considerable amount of grinding against the fence with short knees and some dirty boxing.
Henderson will need to fight ugly if he wants to take this fight.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this fight is Jim Miller's takedown defense and what he can threaten with if put on the canvas. He hasn't been put on his back much in his UFC career, but when he has, he's proven to be incredibly dangerous from the position. If Henderson can take him down, it will be very interesting to see what Miller does off his back, whether he attempts submissions or if he can work sweeps and escape from perilous situations. If Miller can't put a halt to Henderson's three round takedown assault or at least try to turn the tides once on the ground, he could be worn down to the point where he loses a decision or worse.
Bottom Line: This is a match-up of two of the best lightweight fighters in the world. It absolutely deserves to be the main event, but there's also the possibility that this gets ugly. Ben Henderson has a grinding style, and is perfectly happy winning a fight that way. He usually has exciting fights when he's pushed to the limit, and Jim Miller is exactly the type of fighter that will test him. If all else, this fight should be watched because of the incredible relevance to the lightweight division.
Who will be victorious at UFC on Versus 5? Tell us in the comments below!