The stakes were high last night (May 5, 2012) for the UFC on FOX 3 main event between lightweights Nate Diaz and Jim Miller in East Ruthorford, New Jersey, and expectations were met or exceeded on just about all accounts.
Diaz had a potential title shot on the line while Miller was hoping to secure one more huge victory to get himself into the title picture as well.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five winner seemingly had a wrestling disadvantage, but Miller was unable to capitalize on it.
The biggest surprise of all was Miller, a man who'd never been stopped despite three losses to top five current UFC lightweights in 24 previous fights, being forced to tap out to a Diaz guillotine choke.
So how in the world did the proud Stockton native submit such a high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt? And what's next for both terrific fighters?
Follow me after the jump for our Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller UFC on FOX 3 post-fight review and analysis:
Miller tried to put pressure on Diaz early, pushing him into the fence and working to mix in dirty boxing, knees and takedown attempts, but Diaz hung tough and was able to remain standing. It was a very grueling pace and Diaz was able to escape and create distance again.
In striking range, Miller tried to land some leg kicks but Diaz countered with his incredibly accurate boxing. Diaz's punching flustered Miller and the New Jersey native was unable to find his range with his boxing, repeatedly coming up short with his overhand left and right hands.
Miller switched to single-leg takedown attempts but again they were unsuccessful. As he tried to circle to his left, Diaz pounced with a beautiful 1-2 combination which blasted through his defenses and actually sent the hard-headed AMA Fight Club member to the ground.
The wounded Miller went to his bread and butter which was the ground game and both men traded sweeps and top position for the final 30 seconds.
In the decisive second round, both men stalemated in the clinch before resetting in the cage center and this was where Diaz completely took over. It started with a simple wiggle of his fingers, then it was dropping both hands to his sides before wading in and throwing solid knees up close and personal.
After the next separation, the taunts started flowing from Diaz and Miller took the bait, leaping in with a wild flying knee as Diaz countered with a swift combination. He continued to taunt, noticing Miller's reaction and Miller mixed up his attack with a front kick to the face but Diaz just slapped his own face as to make it seem like Miller couldn't hurt him.
Once in the clinch, Diaz had a "come on mother fucker" get bleeped out and it was noticeable that Miller was breathing heavily here out of his mouth. Miller, after eating several more knees and beginning to bleed heavily from his nose, began to get increasingly desperate.
This led to Miller rushing forward with a takedown attempt, missing with his left leg trip and finding himself badly caught in Diaz's web. The Cesar Gracie product's guillotine wasn't completely locked in at first but he had Miller in all sorts of trouble, eventually stepping over and mounting him, which is just about the worst position to be in while being choked out and Miller had no choice left but to tap out.
For Jim Miller, he was simply outclassed. Diaz thwarted him at just about every turn and he had some major issues landing his punches from a distance. His best attack was in the clinch with short strikes and his leg kicks from the pocket but even then, he was constantly getting countered and getting as good as he was giving. If I had any suggestions, it would have been to work his leg kicks more and to aggressively shoot in for a double leg takedown when Diaz was building momentum rather than trying to fire back with flying knees and front kicks. Those just played into Diaz's game be creating openings in his defenses which Diaz continued to exploit.
Miller has repeatedly put on great fights, but he has also come up short now every time against the elite in the division. Unfortunately, with this loss, he's almost certainly out of title contention for a significant period and will likely become a high level gatekeeper. I wouldn't be surprised to see him face the upcoming loser of the Gray Maynard vs. Clay Guida fight. Other options include the Donald Cerrone vs. Jeremy Stephens loser or perhaps the loser of Jacob Volkmann vs. Paul Sass.
For Nate Diaz, this was a masterful performance. He was able to avoid taking much damage in the clinch and utilized his length very well. I loved that he mixed in more knees and even some leg kicks to diversify his striking attack and keep Miller guessing. Best of all was once he got comfortable in the striking exchanges and starting trash-talking and taunting. Miller is such a blue-collar worker in MMA, it was insane to see him lose his composure. Diaz took advantage of every opening that Miller gave him during his wild attacks and then capitalized on Miller's desperation with that takedown attempt in the second round, reversing it swiftly into an offensive attack of his own.
This fight answered a lot of Diaz's critics in terms of his ability to fend off some takedowns against a tough wrestler. Granted, Miller is a very well-rounded fighter and not just a wrestler, but Diaz was able to avoid being put on his back repeatedly and was quick to sweep, throw submissions or get back to his feet in all the brief instances where he was put on the ground.
There's no need to speculate. Nate Diaz will wait for a title shot. He mentioned he wanted some time off anyways in his post-fight interview so he has no problem with potentially having to wait until the end of 2012 before fighting again considering it will be for the title this time. Diaz will fight the winner of Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson next. That leaves Anthony Pettis out to dry, but that's not Diaz's problem whatsoever.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Are you now a believer in this new and improved Nate Diaz 2.0 in the lightweight division? Is he a serious threat to become the next UFC champion at 155 pounds? What would you do with Jim Miller next?