UFC 159: Jones vs. Sonnen is a choice collection of hand-to-hand violence, consisting of 12 chapters in all, that will be presented in 3 different segments: the Facebook preliminary stream (slated for 6:30 p.m. ET, but that start time is always a moving target), the FX channel preliminary card (8:00 p.m. ET) and the featured pay-per-view card (10:00 p.m. ET).
Leading off the latter echelon is a lightweight scrap that pits perennial contender "Gentleman" (my own suggestion; it just fits) Jim Miller vs. notable Strikeforce standout Pat Healy, who returns to the Octagon for the first time since a one-and-done stint at UFC Fight Night 6 in August of 2006 (he was submitted by Anthony Torres).
"Bam Bam" Healy's 29-16 career record doesn't really do him justice. The most relevant modifier is that Healy, who began his career at welterweight, has notched a stellar 8-1 clip since dropping to lightweight. The bulk of that run was spent carving through a pack (5) of Strikeforce 155ers en route to a crack at Gilbert Melendez' title, though the opportunity vanished when Melendez twice withdrew with injuries.
Healy wrestled at the Division II level at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and packs the rare 1-2 punch of wrestling and submission grappling. Though his welterweight tour seems less than flattering on the surface, Healy's been immersed in reputable competition throughout his career, as 14 of his 16 losses were dealt by future UFCers and, as a testament to his grappling prowess, he's finagled submissions on the likes of Carlos Condit, Dan Hardy and Paul Daley.
Jim Miller (22-4) made his Octagon premiere at UFC 89 with an 11-1 record, having captured the Cage Fury and Reality Fighting championships and only come up short against a then-local talent named Frankie Edgar. The AMA Fight Club product nearly replicated that same pace on the big stage, piecing together a 10-1 run in the UFC with beefy wrestler Gray Maynard accounting for his sole flaw.
After rebounding from the Maynard loss with 7 consecutive wins, the bearded bulwark finally suffered defeat at the hands of current UFC lightweight monarch Ben Henderson, who began the 2-2 streak Miller's on now (Nate Diaz is responsible for the other loss).
Let's take a look at how these fighters compare in the 3 Phases of Combat.
While far from incapable or inept on the feet, the striking aspect is Healy's weakest. 90% of his offerings consist of busily probing jabs while he tries to feel out the distance and find the right time and angle to drop levels for a takedown or initiate a clinch. Healy's striking is, oddly enough, similar to that of a boxer with a closed and upright stance, his shoulders at a 45-degree angle and his lead (left) foot significantly farther forward than his rear.
In MMA, the standard set of concerns for such a stance are being susceptible to leg kicks (Maxi Blanco took him off his feet with one), having limited lateral movement (especially when needing to cover a lot of ground quickly) and being easier to read and defend when changing levels. His head movement is present but not a strong point, so that in conjunction with his lack of dynamic motion and tall-man's stance leaves his chin as somewhat of an available target.
Miller, a southpaw, isn't necessarily a power puncher but that might be the only knock on his stand up. He does most of his handiwork with his boxing though kicks are a viable option for him, and Miller has a solid sense of timing, rhythm, counter-punching and transitioning seamlessly to wrenching or clinching due to his impressive composure and balance.
A potential X-factor in all categories is the single inch of height and reach Healy will have on Miller, though I don't expect it to influence the striking match up whatsoever.
Advantage: Miller (strong)
Whenever he's in contact range, Healy can be a real handful. He has a nice blend of raw aggression, continual pressure and takedown finesse that can be difficult to fend off. He is, however, a little predictable in standing tie-ups, as he's light on striking and heavy on the pursuit of trips, throws and single or double legs. If there is a realm where his moderate length advantage could bear fruit, this is it.
Like in every aspect of combat, Miller is highly competent with no weaknesses in the clinch. There's not much he can't do well, whether it's defensive clinching with the intention of escaping, striking, seeking out takedowns or defending them. Healy is an adept wrestler with considerable size and strength for a lightweight, yet the only fighter to control Miller convincingly is Maynard, which is pretty understandable.
I'm tempted to give Healy an itsy-bitsy edge here, as I feel the clinch is his best position from which to impose his strengths, but Miller's Fight I.Q. and toughness brings this pretty close to even. If forced to take sides, I would begrudgingly give a razor-thin nod to "Bam Bam" here.
The fact that Healy is billed as a purple belt in the gi only reinforces the reality that belt color has almost no meaning in MMA grappling anymore, as he's undoubtedly at the black-belt level as far as effectiveness. His length and wrestling acumen can definitely augment his cunning submission game, and Healy has the knowledge of position and voracious finishing instincts to drastically turn the fight's tide in only a few moments on the mat.
Like Healy, Miller is comfortable in all positions on the mat, an excellent scrambler and highly crafty in attaining an advantageous position. The big difference is that Healy, while ridiculously potent with offensive submissions, has been somewhat prone to defensive lapses, which have resulted in 6 career losses by submission. Despite the latter observation, Healy is a monster grappler who's willing to take chances and pounce on risky opportunities, which can make or break a fighter. This is a tough assessment to make but ...
I think Healy has the ability to establish himself as a mid- to upper-tier lightweight, but Jim Miller is quite a stiff and feisty test. Healy's grappling potency and size make him a formidable opponent for any 155er on the market, but I'm thinking Miller will just be too experienced and diverse.
My Prediction: Jim Miller by decision