At UFC on Fox 3 this Saturday, Jim Miller and Nate Diaz will collide in a fascinating main event. Dana White has stated that, should Diaz win, he'll be next in line for a shot at the UFC Lightweight title, but even without that title shot at play, this is a great bout. In some ways, this is your classic striker vs. grappler match-up. Because despite his strong BJJ credentials, Nate Diaz has become more of a boxer than anything else, while Miller combines wrestling and submissions into an aggressive, grinding ground game.
Here, I wanted to take a look at the stand-up side of this battle. Obviously, Nate Diaz has the more well documented stand-up game, and to get caught up on his striking, I strongly encourage you to check out this collaborative Judo Chop Kid Nate put together in 2010. But what I wanted to examine here was something not as often discussed - the stand-up game of Jim Miller.
Again, Miller is not known for his striking, as his ground game is his main offensive tool. But he's also a well-rounded fighter who has improved that striking over the years. Here, we'll take a look at four aspects of his striking:
- His use of southpaw stance
- Defensive movement and positioning
- Offensive style
- How he matches up against Diaz
Join us in the full entry for this breakdown of Jim Miller's striking.
Miller is a southpaw, meaning that he fights left-handed, with his left leg back. As the majority of fighters use an orthodox stance, this opens the door for some different things from Miller. And one of the strongest assets of his offensive stand-up games is how well he uses that stance.
Photo by Dave Mandel for Sherdog
Miller uses a lot of strikes that capitalize on this stance. When fighters in opposite stances meet, their bodies are more open than normal. Miller takes advantage of this with an excellent body kick that he quickly fires off. He also has a nice inside leg kick which he quickly throws to his opponent's lead leg (shown above vs. Duane Ludwig). Again, because of their opposite stances, that lead leg is more exposed, and the inside leg kick is an excellent weapon for the southpaw fighter.
Defensively, Miller does not utilize his stance as effectively. Again, when fighters in opposite stances meet, the best foot positioning is to move your lead foot to the outside of your opponent's. Miller doesn't do this much, and in the Kamal Shalorus fight, Shalorus was able to get the superior foot positioning at first and connect with Miller when he came inside, stopping his offense in the early minutes. But the real danger for a southpaw fighter is the straight right down the middle (shown below vs. Kamal Shalorus), and Miller leaves himself too open for this punch - he's been caught by it a number of times, most notably by Gray Maynard.
Photo by Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Miller has a solid chin, but his defenses could use a bit of tightening up. In particular, he has a bad tendency to not keep his elbows tight to his ribs when he strikes. If you watch his elbows (his lead right elbow mainly), they tend to be up and away from his body. Keeping your elbows in tight allows you to use your arms to protect against body shots. By keeping his elbows loose, Miller opens his body up. As a southpaw this is particularly problematic because as mentioned above, his body is more exposed. He's been hit in the body before, and has improved this positioning somewhat, but could go further with it.
With his movement, Miller has recently begun to use angles more, which is a good improvement. Previously, he tended to move just straight in and out, which is both too predictable and opens him up to being trapped against the cage when retreating. He's added in more angles, both on offense and defense, but again, I'd like to see him work that aspect of his game more.
Photo by Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
The best striking offense from Miller is the southpaw offense discussed above. He has a great body kick and inside leg kick, and also a nice lead right hook. He also makes good use of combos. Previously, Miller tended to throw combos that mixed together punches and kicks nicely. Now, he's opened up more and mixes a variety of straight punches, kicks, uppercuts, and knees (above vs. Shalorus). It's a good varied offense that stays focused and relatively simple (nothing crazy flashy from Miller) yet puts these different strikes together in a way that allows them to flow into each other while also confusing his opponent. And of course, as a grappler, he is always happy to end the combo with a clinch or takedown, which makes his offense more difficult to defend against.
Vs. Nate Diaz
Unfortunately, Nate Diaz's striking attributes work particularly well against Miller. The biggest issue is that Nate is also a southpaw. This means that Miller won't have the advantage of his southpaw offense. The last time he faced a southpaw (Ben Henderson) Miller struggled to find his rhythm on his feet, and I anticipate a similar struggle here. Diaz also will have a 5" reach advantage, which will allow him to get those straight punches inside Miller's guard. Finally, he is skilled at working the body, so if Miller keeps those elbows up, Diaz will punish him.
Jim Miller has shown good improvement in his stand-up game over the years. He's also built it around his natural physical attributes as a south-paw, and the end result is a very solid game, albeit one with some defensive holes. However, Diaz is the perfect foil to Miller's striking style. On Saturday night, Miller should use extreme caution and minimize the time standing with Diaz. If the fight ends up being contested primarily on its feet, Miller is in for a tough time here.