UFC Fight Night 45 preview: Five burning questions going into 'Cerrone vs. Miller' in New Jersey

Steve Snowden

Before every fight card, mixed martial arts (MMA) fans toggle between possible scenarios and what to expect days before it all unfolds in front of their eyes. Probable outcomes, distinguishable facts and head-scratching theories are all part of the mystique that surrounds the fights on any given night. We ask ourselves the same questions … and try to uncover different answers.

After some devastating news regarding the pay-per-view (PPV) schedule, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns this midweek to fulfill your combat needs.

UFC Fight Night 45: "Cerrone vs. Miller" takes place this Wednesday night (July 16, 2014), invading Revel Resort & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for several hours of face-punching action sure to entertain the state's finest fans on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and UFC Fight Pass.

In the main event, Donald Cerrone battles Jim Miller, who will definitely have the home crowd on his side for the entire affair. Both combatants are on three-fight winning streaks (excluding Miller's "No Contest" against Pat Healy at UFC 159), with title implications written all over the headlining tussle.

Also on the card, two struggling lightweights will look to get back into the win column as Edson Barboza battles Evan Dunham in the co-main event.

Ironically, both fighters fell victim to "Cowboy" in each of their last appearances.

With several interesting storylines emerging from this card, check out our "Five Burning Questions" heading into these fights in the "Garden State."

5. Did UFC book a mismatch with Jessamyn Duke vs. Leslie Smith?

Duke is a member of the Ronda Rousey-led "Four Horsewomen," and she's expected to have a bright future in the sport. But if there's any criticism that seems accurate about the clan, it's that everyone except for "Rowdy" is pretty much unproven in UFC.

The youngster appears on the "Prelims" against Leslie Smith; a fellow Invicta FC veteran with 12 professional fights to her name thus far. The "Gun" has a record of 3-1 and 1 "No Contest," lacking experience in contrast to her foe.

It seems the organization is high on Duke because of her place on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 (including her scrap against Raquel Pennington on the show), and her association with the women's bantamweight champion.

Trading shots against Smith could be dangerous; however, the Cesar Gracie-trained combatant isn't too technical when things get heated -- as we saw against Sarah Kaufman in her last fight.

That benefits the Kentucky-born fighter, but is she biting off more than she can chew this early on in her career?

4. Will John Lineker make weight and improve from his recent setbacks?

The Brazilian was regarded as one of the brightest prospects in the growing flyweight division, poised to challenge champion Demetrious Johnson when the time would be right.

Unfortunately for him, that never happened because of his costly errors.

Lineker missed weight in three out of his six UFC bouts, despite winning four of those contests. It seemed as if his win over Jose Maria Tome at UFC 163 would have been enough to challenge for the gold, yet his scale fail pegged him back a notch.

He defeated Phil Harris a little over two months later, but failed to be on target a day before his fight once again. A loss to Ali Bagautinov at UFC 169 shortly after (where he missed weight again on his first attempt) dented his hopes, and he finds himself somewhat lost in the shuffle.

He's lucky the 125-pound division is in dire need of a challenger for "Mighty Mouse," since Jon Dodson is going to be out for quite some time. "Hands of Stone" desperately needs to be on point at the weigh-in, and if he beats Alptekin Ozkilic, he can make amends by convincing the brass not to focus on the past.

3. Who can rekindle their top prospect status first, Edson Barboza or Evan Dunham?

Maybe Barboza and Dunham aren't prospects anymore, since they've been given multiple chances to prove their worth in the lightweight division. The jury may still be undecided when determining Barboza's future, but they're surely out when it comes to Dunham, since he's had several opportunities to prove himself, despite unfair calls.

It seemed to all fall apart for Dunham after a loss to Sean Sherk at UFC 119, which is ironic, since the judging decision was a horrendous one.

He was torched by Melvin Guillard shortly afterward in an important fight he had to win, and it went downhill from there after going 3-3 in his last six fights.

But if the Brazilian were to lose against the American, he may not longer be considered as one of the world's best lightweights, either. He's only lost twice in the organization, but those two fights -- against Jamie Varner and Donald Cerrone -- were must-win battles.

It's difficult to imagine who would have more success following this particular bout on Wednesday evening, hence there being a lots of work to be done afterward. That said, the winner becomes relevant again, and the loser sinks even deeper.

2. Will Jim Miller finally win the big one?

If you were to examine Miller's UFC record, you'd notice he's one of the most durable lightweights on the entire roster, having fought 17 times inside the Octagon.

Still, the New Jersey-based submission specialist has lost three fights in which he would have proven to be championship material had he won those battles. He pretty much wipes the floor clean against mid-card talent, although if scrappy home brewer wants to earn his first title shot after trucking along in the 155-pound talent pool, beating Cerrone is a must.

"Cowboy" is one of the world's toughest lightweights, but Miller's grittiness and hard-nosed attitude could give everyone a problem. Losing only three fights out of 17 is impressive, but he can't afford to drop another high-profile fight, because his time may never come after that.

The hometown hero is good enough to be pitted in a title fight, but coming up short against guys who went on to become lightweight title challengers (Gray Maynard, Benson Henderson, and Nate Diaz) indicates he may just be the stepping-stone of the division.

Quite frankly, he's better than that, he just needs to show it.

1. Where does Donald Cerrone fit in the title picture if he wins?

Dana White loves him, the fans can't get enough of him, and he's so charismatic that only he could get away with chugging Budweisers while spitting tobacco in a cup.

Whether his past couple of losses were due to a lack of concentration, "Cowboy" hasn't quite earned his place when it comes to challenging for gold. He definitely gets close, yet he too can't secure the big one under his belt (fights against Anthony Pettis, Nate Diaz, and Rafael dos Anjos come to mind).

You could argue he's won bigger fights, and a victory on Wednesday night would be huge, but where does that put him?

Pettis and Gilbert Melendez will be serving as coaches on TUF 20, and a date is already set for their war. With Benson Henderson and Khabib Nurmagomedov rising, Cerrone may have to fight another day if he has his sights set on the strap.

Since there are three contenders in the limelight -- and don't forget about "Smooth's" next contest, either -- it's uncertain where the victory would put "Cowboy" in terms of the title picture.

And we're not talking about rankings, either.

For more on UFC Fight Night 45 check out the finalized fight card, including bout order and set times, right here.

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