For tonight's featured attraction of the UFC on Fox 3 show, we have a battle of polar opposites. Nate Diaz and Jim Miller are both legit strikers and BJJ black belts, but the likenesses pretty much stop there.
Duress from his coach and teammates was the only reason the humble Jim Miller (21-3) ever asked for a title shot. And why wouldn't he? He was on a 7-fight win streak in one the UFC's most stacked divisions and has only lost by decision to former #1 contender Gray Maynard and current lightweight champion Benson Henderson throughout his 12 Octagon performances. Miller seemed embarrassed at taking even the slightest step toward acknowledging his accomplishments and his sheepish post-fight request for a title shot was genuinely polite -- which is far from the standard in MMA. Miller is a blue-collar workhorse who always shows respect to his opponents and does all his talking in the cage.
Nate Diaz (15-7), however, would fight the champion of any organization, in any weight class, tonight -- for free, in his backyard or outside in the parking lot. The mere potential of engaging in hand-to-hand combat with another human being would utterly insult, offend and enrage him, and errant middle fingers and malicious sneers are guaranteed to follow. Sure, he'd love to have a UFC championship belt, but I have a hunch he'd value being equipped with his nunchaku in the event of a playful, brotherly ambush just as much.
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In addition to the personality clash, Diaz is a tall (6'0") and lanky (76" reach) lightweight driven by pure offense, which is transmitted through distinctly unorthodox and aggressive boxing, fluidly effective sweeps and submissions and -- when forced -- a serviceable Judo acumen in the clinch. Miller has more of a compact stature (5'8", 71" reach) who intelligently draws upon his bulletproof 3-dimensional arsenal (striking, wrestling, BJJ black belt) to implement whatever attribute is most appropriate.
The timeless outlook for a well-rounded mixed martial artist is selecting the most effective tools to exploit weaknesses. Broad diversity is also accompanied by the concern of whether that particular fighter's more extensive arsenal of good weapons can be applied to unhinge a narrower arsenal of great weapons. The rap sheet on Diaz has always reflected that a stand-up shootout is something to avoid and a clinch- or grappling-based strategy can pay dividends, as long as it's conjoined with high-level submission defense.
Therefore, the straightforward question is whether Miller can replicate the takedown-heavy performance of monstrous lightweight and standout wrestler Gray Maynard or the deceivingly powerful onslaught of top welterweight Rory MacDonald. With wrestling emerging as a critical avenue for Miller, when compared to those two fighters, the salient differences are height/length and pure wrestling voracity. The size-factor is an indisputable statistic and, while Miller is no slouch of a wrestler by any means, I'm not sure we can place him on the same pedestal as Maynard or MacDonald.
Complete analysis in the full entry.
On one hand, it seems a little too convenient to write Diaz off anytime he's matched with a serviceable takedown artist. Conversely, one could counter by citing his struggles with Joe Stevenson and Dong Hyun Kim, who are immensely talented but not quite as hefty or domineering as Maynard and MacDonald.
Diaz is phenomenal at capitalizing on his length in the striking department, but falters in translating that length into extra leverage on the defensive end. Though lacking brute strength, a wiry athlete with stretchy proportions can impose massive leverage in several scenarios, just like Rafael Cavalcante did with his clinch-work against Muhammed Lawal or light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones does with his devastating clinch takedowns.
Traditionally, Diaz's length augments his unique striking but seems to work against him when shucking off grapplers. Adopting technical footwork to keep him out of the spots where he's forced to rely on physical attributes would be an integral complement, but he hasn't excelled there either, thus the ease with which Donald Cerrone up-ended him with chopping kicks or the way his front-heavy stance is susceptible to low singles and ankle picks.
The unending forward movement and constant pressure of Diaz has made him a fan favorite but actualizes as a strategic flaw against opponents who endeavor to get inside and attack from phone-booth range, as Miller certainly will. In the past, Miller has never forced takedowns and has been confident enough in his striking to await the right opportunity. Against Diaz, he might not be afforded that luxury. While the tendencies noted above highlight some potential opportunities for Miller, Diaz will be pouring it on with strikes and has an unparalleled gift for dominating the tempo on the feet while subsequently disrupting his opponent's flow.
Most of Miller's takedowns are set up well, but initiated in straight lines rather than angles. While that doesn't mean he won't be successful, it does reduce his ability to fully exploit some of Diaz's flaws. Miller isn't entirely experienced against exceptionally tall adversaries nor southpaws like Diaz either. And let's not forget -- Nate is a black belt of the highest degree on the mat, so it's not a cakewalk for Miller if he can secure a takedown and it's no easy task to keep Diaz down.
Should they become entangled, Miller has excellent scrambling. This is where his explosiveness and compact frame work well, as he's a frenetic scrambler who typically passes to a better position before his opponent can react. Nate is an adept scrambler as well, but his real bread and butter is the virtual library of smooth sweeps and submission opportunities he creates with his active hips. Once firmly planted on the ground, Miller is far from an idle top player and prefers activity over control. This trait benefits Diaz, who is a nightmare to hold down and preys on his opponent's activity with counter-sweeps and escapes.
I'll conclude with a summary of the match up based on the dynamics within the Three Phases of Combat.
Free-Movement Phase: Clearly Diaz. He's at his best when peppering with high-volume combinations and moving of his own volition. Since every fight starts standing, Miller will be tasked with forcing the action to a different phase or dueling in Diaz's realm of specialty.
Clinch Phase: Miller, though not by a landslide. Most of Diaz's takedown susceptibility comes from outside takedowns that bypass the clinch and go directly from the free-movement phase to grappling. He's capable with trips, throws and Thai knees in the clinch, but tends to allow himself to be pressed against the fence too easily and often. How frequently and efficiently Miller can initiate the clinch is probably the most pivotal factor, as it keeps him out of Diaz's preferred range and one step closer to his. If he struggles to clinch, he's once again relegated to tactics from outside, and shooting doubles or striking on the fringe with Diaz is not ideal.
Grappling Phase: It seems as if, if the fight hits the ground, chances are that Miller will be on top. As much as I hate to admit it, the judges have historically scored this as winning (regardless of the specifics). Diaz has one of the most active guards in the sport along with a cunning set of sweeps but, barring a submission or an escape, the grappling portion leans toward Miller.
Even though Miller gets the nod in 2/3 of the categories, he's faced with breaking out of the single phase where Diaz has the advantage and keeping him there. Regardless, Miller comes in as a substantial favorite in the -220 department and there is plenty of evidence to support it. My prediction is based more on instinct and preference than strictly logic, so I'm taking a chance that Diaz can defy the odds and pull out an entertaining win.
My Prediction: Nate Diaz by decision.