Tonight (July 16, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller will square off in the main event of UFC Fight Night 45, airing live at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 from Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
After a lackluster run in early 2013, No. 6-ranked Cerrone declared he was broke and needed to fight as much as possible to make up for lost ground. He's since responded with three bonus-earning finishes, his most recent an impressive come-from-behind submission win over Edson Barboza at April's UFC on FOX 11.
Add that to a highlight reel knockout of Adriano Martins at UFC on FOX 10 and his "Submission of the Night"-winning triangle choke on Evan Dunham at UFC 167, and Cerrone is on one of the hottest runs in all of mixed martial arts (MMA).
Meanwhile, No. 7-ranked Miller has momentum of his own after submitting Yancy Medeiros at UFC 172 and Fabricio Camoes at UFC 168. He's won three out of four and will be knocking on the door of title contention if he can corral Cerrone.
This battle of top-ranked veterans will give the winner prime bargaining position in the stagnant UFC lightweight division, so the stakes are high for Cerrone and even higher for New Jersey native Miller.
Both of these competitors come to finish the fight each time out, making this a potential candidate for one of the best bouts of the year. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Cerrone vs. Miller:
Record: 23-6 (1), 10-3 UFC
Key Wins: Edson Barboza (UFC on FOX 11), Melvin Guillard (UFC 150), Evan Dunham (UFC 167), Dennis Siver (UFC 137)
Key Losses: Anthony Pettis (UFC on FOX 6), Nate Diaz (UFC 141), Rafael dos Anjos (UFC Fight Night 27), Benson Henderson (WEC 43, WEC 48)
Keys to Victory: Cerrone is well known for his vaunted striking, which he parlayed into a 28-0-1 professional kickboxing record.
The taller "Cowboy" will be looking to keep the scrappy Miller at bay with a high variety of leg, front, and head kicks. His boxing is accurate and powerful, and it's surprising that he's only scored three knockouts in 23 total wins.
If there's something that Cerrone has to look out for on the feet, it will be dictating the pace. Allowing the aggressive Miller to close the distance and get in his face will take away from his edge.
Cerrone isn't known for being an effective counterstriker, and he's also struggled when opponents put a lot of pressure on him. His losses to Diaz and dos Anjos are perfect examples of this.
With a lofty 15 submission wins, "Cowboy" uses his strikes to soften up his opponents before finishing them on the ground. Miller is no doubt a lethal mat practitioner in his own right, but he's also tapped out before. Cerrone should be looking to sprawl Miller's takedowns and make him pay with some follow-up combinations.
If he pushes the action and lands some big shots, yet another post-fight bonus will be within reach.
Record: 24-4(1) overall, 13-3(1) UFC
Key Wins: Joe Lauzon (UFC 155), Melvin Guillard (UFC on FX 1), Duane Ludwig (UFC 108), Yancy Medeiros (UFC 172)
Key Losses: Nate Diaz (UFC on Fox 3), Benson Henderson (UFC on Versus 5), Gray Maynard (UFC 96)
Keys to Victory: Miller has proven to be one of the lightweight division's toughest outs with a style focused on gritty, hard-nosed grappling. He keeps an intense pace throughout his fights; his UFC 155 bloodbath against Lauzon is convincing proof.
Intent on climbing the top rungs of the 155-pound ladder, Miller will be looking to ramp up the aggression in his home state. The closer he can get to "Cowboy," the better, because he'll go a long way towards negating Cerrone's damaging strikes.
On the feet, Miller can hold his own with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and his bludgeoning Muay Thai skills, but he most likely won't be hell-bent on proving he can defeat Cerrone in a kickboxing match.
Miller should aim to get this fight to the cage and make it a grinding affair. It may not win him too many fans in the process, but Miller is at his best when he can take his opponent to the ground and lock on one of his many finishing holds.
He's a legitimate Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with 13 submissions to his name. If he can win some scrambles and somehow find Cerrone's back, a chance to secure a fight-ending choke could present itself.
If it does, Miller will have finally arrived as one of the elite 155-pound fighters in the world.
Bottom Line from Atlantic City: The bottom line for this fight is that it's a high-level match-up of two absolutely lethal grapplers.
But their skillsets extend far beyond that, This bout could be a battle for the ages, and it could also shape a large part of the crawling UFC lightweight title picture (if it ever gets defended).
Cerrone and Miller control their own destinies, and a victory in Atlantic City would arguably be the biggest of both of their decorated careers. Both fighters have seen win streaks disappear due to inconsistency; now they must put that to bed.
Hailing from nearby Whippany, Miller will have the full support of the boisterous New Jersey crowd behind him. That should lend him a solid boost tonight, but he can't let the pressure get to him. His vast experience would suggest it's more likely to help him than hinder him.
Cerrone has never been a picture of consistency, especially when it comes to facing top competition, but if he can get past Miller, he'll rise up to a position that many thought he would already be at (or past) by now.
Similar words could be spoken about Miller, and these two fighters are actually a lot more alike than surface appearances might suggest.
Lightweight is packed with a ton of talented contenders who are all struggling for position once divisional champion Anthony Pettis finally returns and faces Gilbert Melendez at UFC 182 on January 3, 2015.
Tension will be running high tonight, and there couldn't be two better fighters to put forth an exciting show on the East Coast. Enjoy the fight.
MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 45 fight card tomorrow night (July 16, 2014), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1 under card action at 7 p.m. ET and the FOX Sports 1 main card at 9 p.m. ET.
Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller have been running through opponents with decisive finishes lately. Which surging lightweight will come out on top in UFC Fight Night 45's pivotal main event?