A potential UFC lightweight title shot is on the line this Saturday night (May 5, 2012) as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five winner Nate Diaz takes on blue collar scrapper Jim Miller in the main event of UFC on FOX 3 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Diaz was once a staple of the lightweight division but was nowhere near of sniffing a title shot. After an up and down trip to welterweight, he dropped back down to 155 and hasn't looked better. He most recently halted all of Donald Cerrone's momentum at UFC 141 by laying a beatdown on "Cowboy" and UFC President Dana White said he can earn a title shot by beating Miller.
Jim Miller is your every day, humble and hard-working man. Ben Henderson halted his seven fight win streak and his shot at the title, but he bounced back by choking out Melvin Guillard in the first round this past January in his first main event in the UFC. Now he's got a huge stage to do something amazing and put himself right back in the title picture again.
Will Diaz withstand the pressure and pull out the victory under the bright lights? Can Miller play to his strengths and capitalize on Diaz's weaknesses? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Nate Diaz
Record: 15-7 overall, 10-5 in the UFC
Key Wins: Donald Cerrone (UFC 141), Melvin Guillard (UFC Fight Night 25), Takanori Gomi (UFC 135)
Key Losses: Rory MacDonald (UFC 129), Gray Maynard (UFC Fight Night 20), Clay Guida (UFC 94)
How he got here: Diaz didn't take the easy road. He made his MMA debut in the WEC and by his seventh professional fight, he was fighting for the promotion's lightweight title against Hermes Franca at the Brazilian's peak, losing via submission in the second round.
Undeterred, Diaz tried out for TUF 5, the first season to showcase the lightweight division. The self-assured Stockton native was one of the season's stars, constantly arguing with castmates, guest coaches and the like. He defeated Rob Emerson, Corey Hill and most impressively Gray Maynard via submission to compete in the Finale where he would be gifted the show's championship after fellow finalist Manny Gamburyan separated his shoulder in the main event.
Diaz got off to a hot start, defeating his first five UFC opponents before being derailed by tough wrestlers Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson. After an impressive second round submission of Melvin Guillard, Diaz would lose a split decision to Maynard, which would fuel his decision to bump up a weight class.
At welterweight, Diaz stopped both Rory Markham and Marcus Davis in his first two fights. This would put him in a position against some of the toughest young 170 pounders. Diaz had trouble getting outmuscled by Dong Hyun Kim in a tightly contested match and would get tossed around the cage by Rory MacDonald in a bout where he was completely physically dominated.
This spurred the decision to return to lightweight, as suggested by his coach Cesar Gracie and Diaz was paired up against Gomi, a scrappy fighter with some serious history against his brother. The former TUF winner destroyed Gomi, crushing him in the stand up and then finishing it on the ground with a nifty armbar transition from a triangle choke. He proclaimed that he was ready for the elite 155 pounders afterward and they gave him one in Cerrone.
How he gets it done: Diaz is becoming more and more like his older brother, Nick, every time we see him in the Octagon. It appears that after starting out as more of a submission fighter earlier in his career, he wants to stand and bang now. As Nick has grown in his boxing, so has Nate. He showed remarkably similar tendencies in his striking during his last two bouts with Gomi and Cerrone: talking trash, taunting with both arms, throwing quick precision strikes and a high volume of them.
Diaz needs to keep the pressure on him in the stand-up. Miller has some improving technique, but that starts to go out the window when someone is putting a severe amount of pressure and not giving him a moment to collect his thoughts. If Miller is forced to fight on pure instinct, he could be dragged into a brawl which is exactly what Diaz wants.
If the bout goes to the ground, it will be initiated by Miller, but don't discount Diaz and his judo techniques. He's got very underrated ability to use his opponent's momentum against them and if his New Jersey opponent gets reckless shooting in for a takedown, he could either find himself reversed onto his back, stuck in a guillotine choke or even Diaz's patented double middle finger triangle choke special.
Diaz will try to keep this fight standing as long as possible and really get in Miller's face. Pure offense and high volume attacks could be what it takes to frustrate Miller and force him to make mistakes.
Record: 21-3 overall, 10-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Melvin Guillard (UFC on FX) Matt Wiman (UFC Fight for the Troops), Mark Bocek (UFC 111)
Key Losses: Ben Henderson (UFC on Versus 5), Gray Maynard (UFC 96), Frankie Edgar (Reality Fighting 14)
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. He bounced back in a big way on the big stage, choking out Melvin Guillard and he'll have even more eyes on his this time, making his major network debut on Saturday night against Diaz. .
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 weaknesses in his game. What he needs to do is find Nate Diaz's weaknesses and exploit them.
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 Diaz a bit. He's been putting a ton of time in working on his muay thai skills so don't be surprised one bit if he tries to work in some big leg kicks as Diaz does not defend them very well and has been prone to even getting staggered with them in the past.
If and when the opportunity arises, I expect Miller to shoot in deep on Diaz and take this fight to the ground. We haven't seen how the Stockton native can handle a good wrestler in his lightweight return so this will be the perfect chance for Miller to find out whether Diaz has improved enough in that department. If he puts Diaz on his back, he needs to work his ass off to keep him there and pound him while avoiding any sweeps or submissions.
Fight X-Factor: The first factor is pressure. Dana White went out and confirmed that Diaz can earn a title shot with a victory on Saturday night. Will that added pressure affect him in any way, make him fight differently and take less risks with so much on the line? Diaz doesn't seem like the type of man who would sacrifice his principals, but there's a ton of money riding on him winning and stranger things have happened.
The other factor has to be Diaz's development in his defensive wrestling. He was manhandled in his last two losses at welterweight and it was an issue for him in his first run through the lightweight division. He hasn't faced a wrestler who can grind him out and not get submitted yet since dropping down and he has a lot to prove in this fight. If he can't stop Miller from taking him down or can't get back to his feet, it could be a really long 25 minutes for the native of the 209.
Bottom Line: These are two of the most entertaining 155-pounders on the planet. This fight was given main event billing for a reason, because the UFC knows that both Miller and Diaz can bring it, have great cardio and have potential to put on an incredible fight for up to 25 minutes. I expect a ton of action, although there is some potential that Miller could take Diaz down for five rounds and keep him on his back. Even if that happens, Diaz isn't the type to just take it lying down and Miller isn't a lay-and-pray-er. I would expect submission attempts out the wazoo, aggressive ground and pound from Miller and crazy sweep attempts and guard passes. And that's the worst case scenario. Get out your popcorn folks. This one should be good.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FOX 3? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!