So close, and yet so far.
Jim Miller could taste that title shot against the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard later this year. All he had to do was get through former WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson in the co-main event of UFC on Versus 5 last night (August 14, 2011).
But it simply wasn't meant to be.
In what was the greatest performance of his career thus far, "Smooth" Henderson rose to the occasion and dominated the final two rounds to steal all of Miller's momentum that he'd accumulated on his seven fight win streak.
Find out how he did it and how the UFC's convoluted lightweight division shakes out after the jump.
Jim Miller got off to a pretty good start with his technical striking advantage but then made a huge mistake in completely underestimating Ben Henderson's submission defense by going for a standing arm triangle and expending a considerable amount of energy going for follow-up submission attempts with a Kimura and a guillotine that were doomed to fail.
Meanwhile, Henderson was pressuring Miller, pushing him into the fence and punching his way out of trouble. While the first round was close, Henderson destroyed the top contender in the second round with superior wrestling, constant forward pressure in the stand-up and some brutal ground and pound which opened some nasty cuts on Miller. The AMA Fight Club trainee attempted several leg locks but they left his face exposed and Henderson punched him repeatedly until he was forced to let go.
Miller's last chance at victory was in the beginning of the third round when Henderson chose to stand with him for the first 90 seconds. After finding a home for his left hook, he briefly dropped "Bendo" but made a poor decision to follow him to the ground instead of allowing him back to the feet to continue his stand-up advantage. He was instead reversed with a huge momentum-shifting takedown and then pounded on almost all the way to the final horn.
For Jim Miller, he's got to be crushed. I sincerely believe he underestimated Henderson, especially his submission defense and he cost himself some amazing opportunities to hurt his opponent standing because he went for multiple ill-advised submissions. By the time he realized that he needed to keep it standing and knock Henderson out, it was too late and he was already tired and beaten badly from about about eight minutes of ground and pound. Miller won't go away quietly. Expect to see him get right back on the horse and start up a new streak.
Finding potential opponents for the former contender will be difficult as he's already defeated many of the best mid-level fighters in the UFC like Mark Bocek, Matt Wiman, Gleison Tibau and Mac Danzig. Miller will likely have to wait for the loser of the upcoming Dennis Siver vs. Sam Stout fight, the winner of Nate Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi, or he could even finally earn his rematch against the loser of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 3 to jump right back into contention.
For Ben Henderson, in a career filled with phenomenal performances on the big stage, this was the best one yet. The talented fighter out of the MMA Lab is steadily improving every time we see him and has now stamped his mark on the UFC lightweight division. Clay Guida may have brushed off a fight with Henderson during the UFC on Versus 5 post-fight show, but a bout with "The Carpenter" makes a ton of sense to decide to next title challenger. If that isn't possible, Henderson could face the returning former champion Sean Sherk, who's supposedly looking for a fight this fall.
The only other intriguing match-up would be against Melvin Guillard, but "The Young Assassin" is already tied up in a fight that makes no sense against Joe Lauzon. If Lauzon gets hurt training or something, a fight with Guillard for number one contender would be fantastic as well.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
If you could play matchmaker, who would you pit "Smooth" Henderson against next? Did Jim Miller underestimate his ex-WEC foe?