Two rock-solid Lightweight fighters collide in the UFC on FOX 3 main event later this evening (May 5, 2012) at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J., proving a vexing test of will for both Nate Diaz and Jim Miller.
In Diaz's case, he'll have a chance to showcase his ever-improving striking, which lit up and beat down the game but outmatched Donald Cerrone in December. It was a showcase performance for Nate, who really seems to be coming into his own with on-point boxing and a nimble sense of when to engage and when to evade.
Miller's impressive seven-fight win streak marked him as an elite contender, until he ran into Ben Henderson, whose bigger frame and punishing physicality delivered a vicious beating that left the scrappy Miller in rebuilding mode. After submitting the talented but inconsistent Melvin Guillard, Miller needs a victory to insert himself back into the conversation of who the top contenders really are.
Body types play a huge role in this match up, as Diaz' six-inch height and considerable reach advantage will force Miller's hand. Jim is a competent boxer but not in Diaz' class, especially with Nate's increased volume of late. Diaz, however, relies on the threat of his jiu-jitsu and stifling guard to discourage foes from taking him down and, hopefully, riding their way to a cautious but top-game-dominated decision. That's exactly how Miller overwhelms people, however, and the fact that he'll be giving away too many advantages on the feet forces his hand somewhat.
Trying to match strikes with a Diaz on the feet often leaves foes looking like they're fighting underwater. The volume, pressure and constant ping-ponging of shots off your body leaves you a beat behind, bounced around like a pinball and forever unable to get untracked. Diaz' sharpshooter approach was brutally effective against Cerrone, a talented kickboxer himself. However, solid and submission-wary wrestlers have been able to exploit Diaz' modest takedown defense and work their way to decision wins, and Miller's definitely of the caliber to do it - at least against the less-developed version of Diaz that was ridden to defeats by the likes of Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson. Miller, however, is a pretty good blend of takedown artist and jiu-jitsu savvy, and if he gets in Diaz' tricky guard, he'll have to walk a fine line between working enough to justify the ref keeping it on the mat or risking sweeps or submission attempts that will allow Diaz to get back to the feet. It's a delicate balance, but Miller's talented enough to pull it off.
This is also a points-conscious fight for both, meaning it's not likely either guy has illusions about finishing. Diaz and Miller are two of the most durable and submission-proof guys in the game, with outstanding conditioning. The choice between the tactical move to definitely win a close round versus going for a riskier finish could definitely spell the difference in this fight.
There is very little separating the top ten lightweights in the world, and Diaz and Miller are basically fighting for right to state a case that they belong in the top five. Nate's striking will set the tone early, but if Miller can stay low and steer clear of Diaz' high-output attack, and he can a shot to plant Nate on the mat and work to pile up points and build the perception that he's winning, even if it's isn't overwhelming.
However, there is something jarring about fighting a Diaz and there are very few safe places to be. On the ground, their masterful jiu-jitsu makes passing guard virtually impossible to sustain, and their rock-solid chin and tactical smarts rarely leave them in a disadvantageous position. It's also why they can strike with such confidence - they're not worried about being taken down and can let their hands go with impunity.
Miller's an incredibly hard worker but you get the feeling that he's playing right into Diaz' strengths. Nate will potshot him on the feet in the beginning of rounds and force Miller's hand, at which point Diaz will make him work harder than most might expect for takedowns, and Miller will be unable to definitely score or control Nate on the mat. Restarts will play a big part in this fight, and each time Diaz will resume piling up points with effective scoring, leaning and countering and mixing in shots from distance and good combinations. It won't be the kind of sustained beating Cerrone took, as Donald never really threatened with takedowns, and Miller virtually has to have any hope of winning. But it will be enough for Diaz to score effectively and sway the judges to walk about with an entertaining and competitive split decision on the cards.
Diaz via split decision
Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC on Fox 3 results of all the "Diaz vs. Miller" action. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the Facebook video stream, FUEL TV "Prelims" bouts, and of course, the FOX broadcast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 4 p.m. ET and carry straight on through early Sunday morning.
See you later!
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