I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam. - Popeye the Sailor
The point of Nate Diaz and Jim Miller being the main event of UFC on Fox 3 on Saturday May 5, 2012 is that they are near mortal locks to put on an exciting fight. Both men are highly durable, very energetic and display a savage lust for finishing opportunities, whether by submission or by strikes.
The matchmakers and the TV producers are counting on these men to be exactly who they have been in the past, figuring that it will combine for a very competitive and combative affair that makes for truly good sport and entertainment. But who are Nate Diaz and Jim Miller in terms of the ground game? What opportunities will they hunt for and which limbs will they seize against opponents that are similar to the fighter that will stand across from them Saturday night?
First, we look at Jim Miller's bout against Mac Danzig at UFC 100 in 2009, before moving through the decision loss to Benson Henderson at UFC Live 5, then lastly at the recent victory over Melvin Guillard at UFC on FX. Then we move to Nate Diaz and his battles with Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson, Dong Hyun Kim and Rory MacDonald.
Related: Judo Chop: The Southpaw Striking of Jim Miller | Judo Chop: The Unconventional MMA Boxing of Nick and Nate Diaz | Nick Diaz, Daniel Mendoza and the Sweet Science of Bruising | SBN Coverage of UFC on Fox 3
Jim Miller gets some boxing work in. Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
Mac Danzig is no slouch on the ground. He is quite good at grappling if most normal measuring sticks - but within the context of elite level MMA, it was shown repeatedly that Mac could be bullied by an opponent with a strong top game. Jim Miller was able to do so, although some close calls threatened to derail his gameplan.
Against Danzig, Miller quickly took him down in the first round and looked to pass immediately and stay tight to prevent any submission attempts. Danzig still managed to sweep and hit a guillotine off a takedown launched by Miller just as they stood back up.
In the second round, Miller landed a double after a sprawl attempt by Danzig failed. Jim shrugged off a kimura attempt and threw several punches and elbows, trying repeatedly to land left-handed elbows and punches. A late guillotine by Danzig nearly worked, but time ran out in the round before Miller reached his breaking point.
In the third round, Miller shot repeatedly with success and Danzig unsuccessfully tried for another guillotine. After a kimura attempt by Mac, Jim took the back and went for his favored rear naked choke (the one he finished Guillard with). Amazingly, Danzig broke free from a locked on choke and reversed Miller to land some punches.
At UFC Live on Versus 5, Ben Henderson savaged Jim Miller for the two later rounds after losing the first (in the eyes of most armchair judges). The first round saw Miller essentially do his best impression of a Diaz brother, with a standing arm triangle and back take attempt that saw himself get deposited on the ground before a scramble yielded a standing kimura attempt. Bendo defended well and delivered some mean elbows, but Miller credibly threatened the future lightweight champion at multiple points in the round.
A kidney infection on top of accumulated damage caused Miller to continue taking crazy chances over the next two rounds with a kneebar/heel hook combination, which was abandoned after Bendo escaped and started to pour on the strikes to Miller's head. Another kimura attempt failed in the face of the elbows and punches as well. A late mount by Henderson saw Jim covering up and successfully escaping back to the feet, showing commendable resilience and sticking to effective grappling even when hurt or extremely tired.
Summation: Jim Miller has a very solid all around game, preferring to work from the top, displaying excellently timed defense to positional improvements by his opponents and scrambles quite well to neutral or advantageous positions. From the bottom, he displays a shrewd sense of how to isolate limbs while keeping the opponent mostly immobile. However, when going for broke, as he did against Henderson, Miller abandons position to hunt after submissions that are going to be very difficult to apply to slippery and smart opponents like Henderson or Nate Diaz.
Nate works out for the press and photogs. Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
Diaz's Fights: The Gray Maynard fight was passed over for this article as very little of that fight took place on the ground and Diaz was largely able to deter an oddly complacent Maynard from working any takedowns with his boxing.
Long ago, Nate showed his tendency to offer up his back while hunting hip tosses, kimuras or just plain getting away while battling Clay Guida at UFC 94. He is much better at selecting his opportunities, but it is worth noting that apart from one hammerlock Guida attempted, very little damage to Nate resulted from these tactics.
Closer to the present day, the fight against Joe Stevenson at the Ultimate Fighter: USA vs UK finale was a terrific display of one fighter being one or two steps ahead of a very attack-minded opponent. Stevenson may be more famous for his Ultimate Fighter days or for his near sacrificial lamb bout against B.J. Penn, but he is a very good submission grappler. Each time Nate went for a kimura or a guillotine, Joe Daddy was defending and looking to improve position. Nate did come close with a guillotine and briefly had mount, but Joe bucked him off and secured his own top position well. An old Judo Chop explains the spladle Joe Daddy used to put Nate in a very uncomfortable position.
As a bonus, I dug up a live blog of the Kurt Pellegrino fight done by Luke Thomas:
Herb Dean is the ref. Pellegrino gets a quick single leg takedown and gets Nate's back. Diaz eating punches and trying to get up. Pellegrino swings to north-south and back to back control. Crowd chanting DIAZ DIAZ. Kurt puts Nate on his back, in the guard. Landing some shots from the top. Passes guard to side control. Batman is punishing Diaz in the beatdown position but a game Nate fights back to guard. Diaz certainly got his wish for tougher competition. Has a cut open on Nate's head. Diaz givea up his back and looks like he's out on his feet. Pellegrino has head control again, going for a d'arce. Diaz is struggling for a single and now has Kurt pushed against the cage standing. What a gamer! The round ends, I'd score it 10-8 for Pellegrino.
Round 2: Feeling each other out on the feet, Pellegrino gets an easy single leg then moves from 1/2 guard to full guard. Rogan is puzzled. Elbows and hammer fists from the top. Diaz trying to get a kimura. Kurt escapes. Nate looking for a guillotine, nothing, goes for an omaplata, nothing. The stand and Diaz gets a good judo throw against the fence but Pellegrino reverses. No Diaz is standing and Pellegrino gets a slam, Diaz has a triangle! What a bad mofo!!!!! Damn Nate Diaz is for real. He took an asswhipping in the first round and comes back to submit Pellegrino! Great performance. Diaz did some great celebrating between locking in the choke and getting the tap. This is a star-making performance in my book.
Pellegrino might have been the fighter to damage Nate the most on the ground in his career. Nate again hunted the kimura, guillotine and got a very quick triangle off a slam.
Against Kim, Nate was taken down early in the first round by a fast double. While on the ground, Diaz showed some willingness to go for kneebars and the ability to consistently stuff a very good top game grappler's guard pass attempts. Just about every attempt by Kim to hop over a blocking leg was brought back down to the ground. Every positional advancement that Kim enjoyed was due to Nate offering up his back as bait for a kneebar or scramble. An inside trip in the second round secured another takedown for Kim, but little came of it as the elbows and active hips of Nate frustrated Kim again and again.
Rory MacDonald has moved into MMA GIF history with his suplexes of Nate Diaz. However, the first of those suplex chains came from an inside trip that didn't exactly work. Nate gave up his back in an attempt to either get away or set up the Diaz brothers staple - the standing kimura roll. The third round suplex came off a failed ankle pick by Diaz, as he knew he was probably down two rounds to none on the judges' scorecards. The suplexes were spectacular, but Rory only got a few punches and elbows from them, as Nate was launching upkicks continuously and fending MacDonald off.
The Takanori Gomi fight was rather unusual in that instead of being taken down, Nate was able to leap to the back immediately after dropping Gomi. He was shrugged off as Gomi worked his defenses, but transitioned to an extremely nice armbar/triangle/armbar combination. This combination was so sweet that it made Gomi look clueless on the ground. That is not the case, as Gomi was an ADCC qualifier several times in no gi grappling and being dazed from several punches does not excuse Nate slicing through his defenses like a hot knife through butter.
Summation: Nate loves the figure four grip on the far side arm - which is something Dave Camarillo preaches himself - and will use that grip to defend single legs quite well. A very fast double leg can and usually will deposit Nate on his back, but his active hips and nimble feet make it very difficult to pass guard or to avoid the triangle/armbars that he loves to apply. Nate has undeniably improved his grappling since the days of Stevenson and Guida, but the attacking-while-risking-position mentality has never gone away and probably never will. He loves turtling up and rolling for a submission or a re-guard to a triangle or kimura.
Given the propensity for both fighters to work kimuras, it is possible for the top person (likely Miller) to counter a kimura with an armbar. However, I strongly suspect that Miller will come out like Pellegrino did and stay low and tight. I also believe that Miller will avoid slamming Nate down, unless he gets the back, as that triangle/armbar is lethal. As for submitting Nate, Miller's best shot is to take the back off a bait-and-roll and go for the RNC. As the Guillard fight showed, you do not give your back to Jim Miller lightly. Danzig was able to get out, but Miller has only improved since that day.
We could see a submission finish in this fight that builds from a counter to a counter, despite the very good positional and striking defense of both fighters. The excitement of the main event should be at an even higher level than it is now for the fighters are who they are - excellent submission grapplers and competent to very good strikers with near endless stamina.