Jim Miller is notoriously hard to beat.
In two dozen fights, spread over over five years, Miller had only been defeated by three men going into last night's (Sat., May 5, 2012) UFC on FOX 3 main event. The first to do so was Frankie Edgar, former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight titleholder before both men began plying their trade inside the Octagon. The next man to claim victory over the New Jersey native was Gray Maynard, perennial contender to the 155-pound crown.
The third fighter to defeat Miller is the current lightweight champion, Ben Henderson who wrested the title away from "The Answer" at UFC 144 in Japan. It took each man 15 minutes to defeat the AMA Fight Club product, each needing assurances from three judges to seal their victory.
He's hard to beat and impossible to finish, it would seem.
Last night in New Jersey, in Miller's own proverbial backyard, it took Nate Diaz less than 10 minutes to not only achieve victory but do what what three of the best lightweights in the UFC -- no, the world -- couldn't do.
He finished Miller, submitting him with less than a minute remaining in the second round. And in doing so, Diaz put himself on the short list of title contenders.
The long-time gameplan to defeat a Diaz brother, while difficult to pull off in practice, is simple in theory and has already been laid out. A strong wrestling/grappling base with decent submission defense from the top has proven to be the Stockton boys' Achilles' heel time after time. Older brother Nick Diaz dropped bouts to Diego Sanchez, Karo Parisyan and Sean Sherk during his first UFC stint after each man performed in such a manner.
The younger Diaz moved up to welterweight after lost consecutive bouts to Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson, both of which employed a similar strategy. He dropped back down to 155-pounds when he was manhandled by Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald.
It seemed, going into the bout, if Miller was to win, it would be on the ground. He would need to be on top and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belt would also have to come in handy as he defended any number of submission attempts from Diaz as the Stockton fighter had his back against the canvas.
Miller did, in fact, try to get the fight to the ground and managed to do so a few times but it was only momentary. Diaz was able to spring back up to his feet almost immediately to continue the fight in a vertical position, one which would benefit the Stockton native more than it would Miller.
It was during these stand-up exchanges where the patented Diaz boxing came into play. They seem like pitter patter punches with little power behind them connecting one after the other while fans and pundits ask themselves how those could ever hurt. B.J. Penn's face showed the wear and tear those punches carry with them after his UFC 137 bout with the elder Diaz and Miller's face, while not as bad as the Hawaiian's, also displayed those scores of punches definitely carry their toll.
Diaz parlayed the striking advantage into the fight-ending submission, wearing Miller down and using his Cesar Gracie training to snake his arm around his opponent's neck and forcing a tap out. And he did so after A) negating Miller's takedown attempts, which was the biggest question mark in his defense and B) forcing the New Jersey native to abandon any gameplan he might have had and fight the fight Diaz wanted.
That's the mark of an evolved fighter, it's the mark of a champion.
Former World Extreme Cagefighting Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis has already called out the winner, in hopes of setting up an eliminator bout while Henderson and Edgar settle their unfinished business. It's unknown whether this fight will come to fruition or if Diaz will await whoever is champion after the UFC 144 rematch.
Regardless of who Diaz fights, however, it's certain now that he is no longer just somebody's little brother.
He is Nate Diaz and he is a force to be reckoned with in the lightweight division.