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UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Thatch - Toe to Toe Preview: Cole Miller vs. Max Holloway

Phil and David break down a matchup that is more exciting than you think in Cole Miller vs. Max Holloway, and has more in common with Duck Tales and Saved by the Bell than you might think.

Artwork by Phil MacKenzie

Cole Miller battles Max Holloway at featherweight, in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 60 on February 14 in the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

One-sentence summary?

That episode of Duck Tales where Launchpad has to take on a robot replacement designed to do the things he does better than he does, but with gangly UFC featherweights.

Or...

That episode of Saved by the Bell where A.C. Slater is caught off guard by how quickly Zack Morris is able to chamber a strong straight right, but eventually uses his wrestling to neutralize an unlikely threat.

Stats

Weight class: Featherweight (145 lbs)

Cole "Magrinho" Miller
21-8 Odds +355

Max "Blessed" Holloway
11-3 Odds -400

History lesson / introduction to the fighters

Phil: Cole Miller started off his Zuffa run in the Ultimate Fighter Season 5, back in 2007, under Jens Pulver. That's aeons ago in MMA time, yet "Magrinho" still somehow seems oddly unworn, like he's the same wiry, pissed-off kid who marched to the beat of his own drum way back when. His time spent in the UFC has been up and down, with some good wins and some bad losses, but he's stayed as a consistent action fighter and tough out.

David: You make Cole Miller sound like a high school kid with green hair, and a Pulley t-shirt. Miller is a fun presence. He's got an understated charisma outside the cage, and in it, he's just pure angst. Because these events occur with reckless abandon, I thought Holloway was fighting a down in weight Jim Miller, and was disappointed until I remembered how awesome Cole's bouts against Pearson, Stephens, and some other nameless dudes were.

Phil: Holloway was put in on short notice at the young age of 19 at UFC 143, getting quickly tapped by then up-and-comer Dustin Poirier. Since then he's pieced together a pretty exciting run, replete with finishes by strikes and subs, with his only stumbles coming against Conor McGregor and Dennis Bermudez in a very controversial decision.

David: I'm starting to wonder just how good Holloway is. He's only 23, which gets lost in the shuffle. There are one or two things that I think limit his ceiling, but not enough to think he can't be a much improved fighter in two to three years.

What are the stakes?

Phil: In all honesty they're not particularly high, but Holloway is building the case for himself as a legitimate top 10 fighter.

Better than that, this fight offers him an opportunity to get out of the high-risk low-reward firing line: there's a constant stream of hot prospects coming into featherweight at the moment, and the Zuffa MO seems to be: throw them at Max, because fuck him. He briefly escaped the cycle purely by luck (when Mirsad Bektic pulled out twice and he got Clay Collard and Akira Corrassani instead), and now it seems like Zuffa might have realized that he's a pretty exciting young action fighter and valuable commodity in his own right. Or maybe they'll just keep on their obsessive quest for the dream matchup with Bektic. Who knows?

David: Max has probably earned himself a big fight, but I don't want to see it just yet. Give him another Cole Miller type, and if he wins impressively, then consider yet another Cole Miller type. What the hell is the rush? He turned 23 in December. Rather than set arbitrary thresholds on number of fights, I'd like to see them consider age as a factor.

Where do they want it?

Phil: The two combatants are pretty superficially similar lanky action fighters, but they have fairly well defined arenas in which they want the fight. Miller is definitely strongest when grappling. A black belt under Ricardo Liborio, he's superb off his back, as broken down by commenter casey hart in this excellent fanpost, but is even better in top control. He's a deft strikes-to-submission finisher when he has his opponents hurt, and his stand-up has shown notable strides of late, as he's working off a vastly improved jab and more disciplined distance control. It's worth noting that his only loss in his last four fights was to Manny Gamburyan, in an example of the rarely seen Double-Ripoff: the elbows which Miller hit Gamburyan with should have resulted in a TKO (they didn't) and he probably should have won the fight on the cards anyway. Wacky officiating aside, it seems as though Miller is coming into his prime at the moment.

David: Miller has always been well rounded, but all he ever needed was a mental reset; a little less pop, more poetry on the feet would go a long way into making him a more effective striker and he's become that late. Not that the emotion is no longer there, if his hatred of all things Boston judging is any indication.

Phil: Holloway remains a high-volume striker, as he was when he first came to the UFC, but his most impressive improvements have been in the grappling. He's a really stout defender of takedowns, maximizing the advantages of his lanky frame by keeping his hips back and his shoulders forward, maintaining pressure on opponents who drive in on his hips. He's also developed clean fundamental jiu jitsu, and can snatch up subs and flurries of positional ground and pound, although he doesn't use much offensive wrestling.

Striking is where he really does his work, though. Unlike the orthodox Miller, Holloway is a switch hitter who fights out of both stances. He often starts out in southpaw against orthodox opponents, utilizing the open stance engagement to maximize distance. Here he uses his favoured right hand as a jab, and throws quick round and front kicks with his rear leg. He often brings the kick down in the front, essentially shifting him into orthodox as his opponent is moved to their left by his kick, lining them up for the straight right.

Orthodox is Holloway's "kill stance"- it contains his two most potent, if risky, finishing techniques- the straight right which catches opponents moving to their left, and the clockwise spinning back kick which catches opponents moving to their right. It's common to see Holloway switch to orthodox when he has opponents cornered and backed into the cage for this purpose.

David: Holloway is notable for the way he strings together moves we typically think of as "eccentric" and makes them purely "pragmatic". It's a deft understanding that is rarely appreciated, but that I'm glad you've articulated. We're used to thinking of spinning back fists, and "spinning shit" anything as hail mary behavior simply because it's not traditional we're starting to see how linked these moves are in the context of distance, countering, pressuring, et cetera.

Three of Max's five career TKO/KO's have come in his last four fights, and it's no secret why; he's getting better from fight to fight.

Insight from past fights?

Phil: As a really tall featherweight, Miller is sometimes too dependent on owning the reach advantage. In a prior mirror match, Steven Siler was able to bully inside against Miller and repeatedly get to him in the phonebooth and the clinch. Once there, Miller turned to the takedowns. He was able to get Siler to the mat, but he had to work very, very hard, and I think Holloway is a much stronger and more adept defensive grappler than Siler is. Add to this that he's a harder hitter and a more diverse striker, and things don't look too good for Miller.

David: Gotta go with the hipster choice and say Cole Miller vs. Shooto icon, and sort of legend, "Lion" Takeshi Inoue. Inoue was famous within the Shooto world for being a slightly different breed from the stereotypical Japanese fighter with his strong emphasis on boxing mechanics. If there's one thing Miller hasn't changed since then, all the way back in 2006, it's his ability to deal with technical, varied strikers. Yes, Miller has improved, but his defense is still lacking, especially against guys who stay active in an intelligent way, and force his defensive posturing to predict more than he typically has to.

X-Factors?

Phil: I can't really think of anything in particular, but there's always the niggling thought of Holloway-Leonard Garcia in my mind. I mean, Max won that fight but it was incredibly close, and he should have absolutely destroyed Garcia. That he could look that uninspired is always something I have in my mind when I'm watching him fight.

David: It was still early in his career. I know that's hypocritical of me after bringing up Miller's loss to Inoue, but like I said; Holloway's power has increased as his technique has sharpened, and no matter how much people hated his decision over Jung, it's not like Jung didn't struggle mightily. Yet Jung hasn't let the Garcia stench linger throughout his career, instead experiencing injuries in its place. Holloway has a solid chin too, so the only x-factors for Holloway are the 'John Hammond's dinosaurs attack Colorado' variety.

Prognostication:

Phil: Significant advantages in power, durability and technical striking for "Blessed", and his takedown defense has been great lately. While Miller is a cunning veteran and a legit threat if he manages just a single effective takedown, Holloway puts so much output out there that he's going to be far more likely to pick up rounds or a stoppage. Max Holloway by TKO, round 3.

David: I had no idea that was Holloway's nickname. Weird. I think Holloway is capable enough to survive one ground scare from Miller. Anymore and his chances exponentially improve, but it's more likely that Holloway stays upright long enough to hurt Cole in the feet. Max Holloway by TKO, round 2.