Two of the most active and dangerous lightweights in the UFC will finally face each other this Saturday night (Dec. 29, 2012) as Jim Miller takes on Joe Lauzon in the co-main event of UFC 155 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Miller enters the fight after one of the most significant layoffs of his career, having not competed for seven months on the heels of his first submission defeat at the hands of Nate Diaz. In typical Miller fashion, he stepped in on relatively short notice for the injured Gray Maynard and is hoping a high profile victory over Lauzon will get him right back into the mix at 155 pounds.
Joe Lauzon scored a tremendous victory in his last bout, a thrilling third round submission against Jamie Varner on the national stage for UFC on Fox 4, which wiped the memory of his February knockout defeat to Anthony Pettis out of the minds of his rabid fans. The Boston native is hoping to finally cross over from potential to legitimate contender with a strong showing on Saturday night.
Will Miller get back on track in a big way against "J-Lau?" Can Lauzon score his second straight significant victory and finally enter the title picture? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 21-4 overall, 10-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Melvin Guillard (UFC on FX) Matt Wiman (UFC Fight for the Troops), Mark Bocek (UFC 111)
Key Losses: Nate Diaz (UFC on Fox 3), Ben Henderson (UFC on Versus 5), Gray Maynard (UFC 96)
How he got here: Jim Miller, one of the most consistent fighters in the UFC today, got his start on the New Jersey circuit in a couple promotions, Reality Fighting, Ring of Combat, even having one fight in the IFL before making his UFC debut against David Baron at UFC 89 all the way across the pond in England.
He would win handily, tapping his opponent with a third round rear naked choke. After another impressive win over The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five alumni Matt Wiman just two months later, he would face eventual title challenger Gray Maynard at UFC 96.
Miller would be outstruck in the stand-up over the course of three rounds, losing a unanimous decision, but that loss lit a fire under him.
The AMA Fight Club fighter destroyed everyone in his path afterwards, winning seven straight in the division and vaulting his way up to one of the promotion's top lightweight contenders. He was especially impressive in catching Brazilian submission specialist Charles Oliveira with a kneebar while standing and then crushing then-undefeated WEC veteran Kamal Shalorus with a knee to the face.
Miller was out for blood with a title shot on his mind but his hopes got shot down against Ben Henderson late last year in a fight where he simply got outworked and outmuscled on the ground. After a bounceback performance against Melvin Guillard, he was stopped for the first time in his career by Nate Diaz via guillotine choke.
After an extended break, Miller stepped in on short notice to battle Lauzon in place of the injured Gray Maynard.
How he gets it done: The New Jersey native is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but also has a year of Division I collegiate wrestling at Virginia Tech to fall back on. He's put in a tremendous amount of time working on his striking and has become deadly with his technique, precision and power.
The Mike Constantino-trained fighter is incredibly well-rounded as a fighter and now appears to have no major weaknesses in his game. What he needs to do is utilize his skills to weather the storm against Lauzon.
Look for Miller to stand as long as he feels comfortable. He can take a shot so I won't be surprised if he trades with Lauzon on the feet for extended periods of time. He's been putting a ton of time in working on his stand-up so expect to see Miller stand in the pocket and try to force Lauzon to go toe-to-toe with him. He likely feels he can handle whatever "J-Lau" throws at him on the feet.
If all else fails, Miller has some respectable wrestling to fall back on and he's seasoned enough in the art of submission to avoid just about anything Lauzo attempts as long as he doesn't get himself rocked first like against Diaz. Lauzon will be trying to go all-out against him so if Miller can handle the early pressure, he can definitely turn the tides.
Record: 22-7 overall, 9-4 in the UFC
Key Wins: Melvin Guillard (UFC 136), Jamie Varner (UFC on Fox 4), Jeremy Stephens (UFC Fight Night 17)
Key Losses: Anthony Pettis (UFC 144), George Sotiropoulos (UFC 123), Sam Stout (UFC 108)
How he got here: Joe Lauzon has faced some seriously stiff competition in his seven and a half year MMA career. The native Bostonian competed primarily on the east coast circuit early in his career, earning a victory over eventual WEC champ Mike Brown but coming up short to the likes of Jorge Masvidal, Ivan Menjivar and Raphael Assuncao.
Lauzon won three fights in one night on April 1, 2006 to punch his ticket to the UFC where he was expected to be thrown to the wolves against former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver. Instead, he clipped Pulver, knocking "Lil Evil" out in just 47 seconds in one of the biggest upsets of that year.
Despite his incredible showing, Lauzon would instead take a spot on season five of The Ultimate Fighter, where "J-Lau" was the favorite to win the show. Instead, he would be upset by eventual finalist Manny Gamburyan in the semifinals.
Since the show, it has been feast or famine for Lauzon, winning impressively but also failing to get a solid streak going either way. Lauzon has turned into a bonus hog as well, taking home "Fight of the Night" in all of his three Octagon losses and winning "Submission of the Night" in nearly all of his recent victories.
He was coming off the biggest victory of his career, a huge upset against Melvin Guillard at UFC 136 in which he stunned "The Young Assassin" with a left hand and then choked him out in less than a minute and was hoping to enter title contention earlier this year against Anthony Pettis but found himself on the receiving end of a brutal head kick knockout from "Showtime."
Lauzon bounced back in emphatic fashion, surviving some brutal right hands from Jamie Varner to get a huge win on the national stage as well as bringing home another pair of post-fight bonuses. The victory earned him a shot at former TUF 5 castmate and two-time title challenger Gray Maynard, but after "The Bully" got injured, he'll instead be taking on Jim Miller.
How he gets it done: Lauzon really hunts for submissions in his fights. He's got a very aggressive guard with sweeps and attacks of the arm as well as some vicious chokes but he's also got some competent striking, something he showcased against both Jens Pulver in his UFC debut and in his most recent fights against Kurt Warburton and Melvin Guillard in which he stunned his opponents on the feet before pouncing with submissions on the ground.
Lauzon has a tendency to eat big shots like he did in his last two fights, but more often than not, he can cover up well and keep moving forward.
Look for "J-Lau" to try to overwhelm Miller on the feet with forward pressure, backing him into the fence and creating openings to unload with short combinations. If he can keep Miller on his heels, he could either take him down or even hurt him standing, which likely would lead to a submission attempt. Miller is very durable so any opening created would have to be pounced upon immediately.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is how Miller has been effected by his recent string of tough fights. He was on the receiving end of a big beatdown against Benson Henderson and was finished for the first time in his career his last time out. That has to take a toll mentally, especially in the confidence department. He's had a long time to think about those underwhelming performances and how he responds will be a big sign in how this fight plays out on Saturday night. If Miller does not show up 100 percent ready to put it all on the line, he could face his first losing streak of his career.
Bottom Line: Both Miller and Lauzon are incredibly exciting lightweights, pushing a tremendous pace and working extremely hard for the finish or at least to make their opponents wilt under the pressure. Considering Miller's pace and durability combined with Lauzon's ridiculous workrate and ability to hog the bonuses, this fight has "Fight of the Night" written all over it. Depending on if anyone can land a heavy shot or latch onto something tightly, it could even have two bonuses. You will not want to miss this one.
Who will come out on top at UFC 155? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!