May 5 is a date that’s been circled on my calendar ever since news broke that top-ranked lightweights Jim Miller and Nate Diaz will meet in the evening’s main event.
Both men are sitting in familiar territory as they head into their clash at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey having put together a string of impressive victories over their time in the elite 155-pound division and now are considered one fight away from championship gold.
Jim Miller is a simple man – He doesn’t fight for fame or riches, but for the competition. The avid hunter and fisherman took to the wrestling mats from an early age before eventually making the transition to MMA shining with his jiu-jitsu chops.
Miller dominated the regional circuit, today in mixed martial arts we see a lot of fighters with padded records, sporting unbeaten tallies having never faced some tough competition but it wasn’t the case for Miller who faced five big-show veterans before joining the elite 155-pound ranks.
The father of two chipped away at a seven bout unbeaten streak that forced UFC matchmaker Joe Silva to take a serious look at the younger Miller brother as a serious contender in the lightweight division before he met up with current UFC champion Ben Henderson.
Despite being considered the favorite by most he was outclassed by Henderson, dropping a thrilling victory on the judges’ score cards putting Henderson in an elite group of men able to beat the native of Sparta, New Jersey.
His second defeat in the UFC forced him to go back to the drawing board and returned better than ever submitting heavy-handed Blackzillian fighter Melvin Guillard in the opening stanza after being wobbled on his feet by the power-puncher.
Diaz is one of the most interesting characters in the entire sport, the younger brother of former Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz he began training jiu-jitsu under 7th degree red and black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Ceaser Gracie when he was 14 after his brother urged him to join the gym.
Nate followed in the footsteps of his elder brother joining the prize-fighting industry and much like his opponent this Saturday night jumped in head-first fighting in the WEC, Strikeforce and Pancrase organizations before joining the UFC in the fifth installment of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV series.
Representing Jens Pulver he would go on to win the sixteen-man field and showed off his bad-boy persona that split the audience down the middle – Since joining the UFC he has earned a reputation as one of the most exciting fighters on the roster collecting eight fight bonuses along his journey.
Less than a year ago Diaz was stranded in purgatory with little interest behind him in the midst of a failed run at 170-pounds getting back-to-back defeats that forced him back to his natural weight-class and since has looked unstoppable.
First he dominated and submitted former Pride lightweight champ and divisional king Takanori Gomi before battering top-contender Donald Cerrone snapping his six-bout unbeaten streak while landing 82% of his offence, shattering the former record for most landed strikes for CompuStrike set by his big brother.
Now in 2012 he is moving away from the shadows of his brother and staking a serious claim at challenging for the top crown in the lightweight division if he can get past the most successful member of the up-and-coming AMA Fight Club.
It’s a tired cliché but every fight starts on the feet, in a striking battle Miller has a trick or two up his sleeve showing off some solid striking, especially in his one-sided blistering of Kamal Shalorus but if he stays on his feet for too long it could be goodnight for the home-State hero.
Diaz was a heavy underdog when he faced Cerrone and his precise power-punching combinations parlayed on the face of the former WEC champ changed the game, much like Nick he looks to lure his opponents into a brawl while cornering them against the cage and unloading.
While he does leave himself open to strikes on the feet while dragging them into his type of fight he won’t have to concern himself with Miller as he doesn’t pack game-changing, one-punch power in his right-hand.
However, Miller is an intelligent man and he knows it isn’t in his best interest to have a kickboxing match with Diaz, instead he will be looking to take this to the floor right away.
The biggest hole in the Stockton, California natives game is his wrestling, relying on his submission chops from your back if the fight hits the floor doesn’t always reflect well on the judges’ score cards and Miller is a talented wrestler.
Despite never being an accomplished wrestler in high school or college Miller has proven to be one of the better wrestlers in the UFC and is where he truly shines, this is the most lopsided aspect of this fight.
During Diaz’ stint at welterweight both Rory MacDonald and Dong Hyun Kim provided the blueprint to beating the Ceaser Gracie product taking him out of his element from the get-go pressuring him against the cage and searching for takedowns, something Miller should take on board.
The most interesting aspect of this fight is the submission game from both fighters, as I expect it to his the floor at some point during their potential five-round affair, both men have a black belt under respected grapplers and combined have 22 submissions.
Both combatants are relentless in searching for the submission on the mat — The Diaz brothers have been known to give up position on the floor if it gives them a better chance at removing an opponent’s limb but that doesn’t always pan out.
The biggest factor here is the guard of Diaz, he has spent more time on his back than my ex-girlfriend and loves to throw up his triangle choke, with or without a double-bird gesture to the audience.
You also have to take into consideration the superb defense of both men, the lone submission to Diaz was to former UFC title-challenger Hermes Franca when he was 19-years-of-age but with high-level grapplers there’s a good chance they will cancel one another out.
Stamina should not be a problem in this fight, although neither man has gone the full 25-minutes inside a fighting circle in their career neither have shown signs of fatigue after 15-minutes in the books.
In fact, going longer works in the favor of Diaz, we’ve seen in the past that his frenetic pace and excellent cardio work in his favor, as his opponents tire out he turns it up another notch as we saw in the Cerrone fight.
When the cage door closes behind these two warriors this Saturday night there will be more on the line than ever before – Not only will more eyeballs be on them than ever before but an impressive win for either will put them at the front of the 155-pound queue.
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