UFC on FOX: Diaz vs. Miller preview

The Fight Network Ariel Shnerer
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All too often in mixed martial arts, cards are littered with lopsided matchups. The unpredictability factor always exists, but the competitive nature of the sizzling scraps featured on the UFC’s return to FOX for the third time Saturday in New Jersey will surely epitomize the true intricacies and shock value that make up the game.

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Four evenly matched encounters highlight an action-packed event from the Izod Center in East Rutherford.

Multiple divisions are featured on the main card with major implications involving the winners. In the marquee attraction, top-10 lightweights Jim Miller and Nate Diaz square off, with Diaz fighting for a No. 1 contendership in the division.

Meanwhile, Josh Koscheck seeks redemption for former teammate Jon Fitch when he clashes with emerging welterweight force Johny Hendricks, plus red-hot middleweights Rousimar Palhares and Alan Belcher attempt to move one step closer to the upper echelon of the class. Finally, hard-hitting heavyweight strikers will collide as Pat Barry meets Lavar Johnson in a bout that promises to kick off the FOX broadcast with fireworks.

Here’s a closer look at what fans can expect:

Jim Miller (21-3) vs. Nate Diaz (15-7)

As Frankie Edgar gets set to square off with Benson Henderson in a well-deserved rematch at UFC 150, the possible next contender to the lightweight throne is likely hanging in the balance when Miller and Diaz face off in a pivotal showdown.

Miller, 28, most recently trounced powerhouse Melvin Guillard via first-round submission this past January. The win was critical for the New Jersey native as he rebounded from his first setback since 2009, in which he dropped a one-sided decision to the current kingpin Henderson.

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Jamie Cruz based at the AMA Fight Club, Miller has enjoyed a successful UFC tenure, amassing quality wins over the likes of Kamal Shalorus, Charles Oliveira, Gleison Tibau, Mark Bocek, Mac Danzig and Matt Wiman.

Having never been finished in his three career losses, the suffocating southpaw is as durable as they come. Miller’s primary asset is his sublime ground game and ability to bring the fight into his comfort zone on the mat, though his striking is always improving.

Diaz, 27, is coming off two of the best performances of his career, completely overwhelming former Pride mainstay Takanori Gomi en route to a first-round submission before soundly outpointing Donald Cerrone in December to end the former WEC star’s six-fight winning streak.

The Stockton, Calif., native recently earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie, but the southpaw is always comfortable standing and trading with any opponent. A relentless boxer who conquers foes with a high volume of punches and tremendous work to the body, Diaz has historically struggled only with wrestlers who use their pedigree to keep him on his back.

On the mat, Diaz still threatens with an array of submissions. But the blueprint to beating him requires putting him there first, which Miller will likely try to do right off the bat.

The winner of the fifth season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Diaz is finally starting to shine as he has grown into his six-foot frame and has effectively put all the tools in his arsenal together.

Miller will be Diaz’s toughest lightweight test in recent memory as his savvy submission skills will be beneficial in defending Diaz’s offense off his back. However, the brother of former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz will be resisting Miller’s takedowns, while looking to batter him with a cavalcade of punches from all angles.

Miller’s success in this fight will depend entirely on his ability to take Diaz down. If the Californian can sprawl and brawl effectively, he will likely spoil Miller’s New Jersey homecoming.

Stylistically, Diaz could be in for a tough fight as wrestlers such as Gray Maynard, Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida have given him fits in past years. Diaz is also susceptible to leg kicks, but Miller’s height and reach disadvantage will make it difficult to target his legs. Diaz’s improvements since his prior lightweight setbacks are abundant and his mindset is stronger than ever.

If Diaz can time Miller’s shots and unload with his customary bombardment of punches, he will score crucial points with the judges in a fight that could be destined for five rounds of frantic warfare.

Verdict: Diaz via decision

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