Another week has past, which means another opportunity to choose the most intriguing and important impending fight of the week. This edition will focus on the headlining bout for the UFC’s third Fox installment between East Coast scrapper Jim Miller and West Coast slapper Nate Diaz in Miller’s home state of New Jersey.

Yes, another Fight of the Week going to a UFC main event, but in all fairness the outcome of this bout has real implications for the lightweight champion once current champ Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar conclude their rematch this summer. The winner between Diaz and Miller will be standing in front of an opportunity to take a shot at the 155-pound strap in a marquee division deeper than most—maybe second only to welterweight. Being in the mix in such a deep division is exactly where these two guys want to be and where one will remain come next Sunday.

Both fighters are top talent in their prime and deserve to be in line for the title. After being tossed between lightweight and welterweight, Diaz has finally found a groove at a lighter weight, mounting successful victories over fellow contender Donald Cerrone last December and most recently over legendary Japanese power puncher and former Pride champion Takanori Gomi. Since his return to 155 pounds, the younger Diaz brother has looked outstanding both on his feet and on the ground.

Against the highly touted Cerrone, a devastating striker who was on a six-fight winning streak, Diaz dismantled his opponent by utilizing his lengthier frame and reach. To many fans’ surprise, Cerrone got beat at his own game in his own world. That match won Fight of the Night, but more importantly, it really put a stamp on Diaz’s ascension to the next level—especially after winning Submission of the Night against Gomi prior to that bout.

Consequently, going into this contender bout with Miller, the younger Stockton slapper proved he is now ready to step out of older brother Nick’s shadow as a legitimate contender himself, one who has plenty of heart, brutal boxing and elite ground skills. All of which he’ll need against the continuously top-ranked Miller, who has only dropped two bouts in his last 12 in the Octagon—one against the current champ and the other against a perennial top three contender.

However, Miller seemingly has more to lose Saturday night, having already climbed his way back to contention—after scoring a Submission of the Night victory over then red-hot Melvin Guillard—and headlining a Fox card in front of his fellow Garden State residents. A loss at this point of his career at lightweight could force Miller to reevaluate which weight division would best suit him moving forward into the second stage of his UFC journey.

With plenty on the line for two guys known for not backing down and being hard to finish, this fight of the week shines as a must-see contest and potential Fight of the Year.

Striking: Diaz – 9, Miller – 7

Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Nate has really put together that distinct Richard Perez (both Diaz brothers’ longtime boxing coach) brand of slap-boxing—notorious for frustrating, damaging and surprising all Diaz adversaries—in his last two fights. Diaz brings a difficult riddle to solve on the feet. What tends to frustrate opponents the most is the Diaz brothers’ ability to dictate the pace and make people fight their game. Nate comes into this fight, like most, with a reach advantage that he has been using to perfection of late, landing punches-in-bunches at unusual angles that fighters have trouble predicting.

On the other hand, Miller possesses good power and technique on the feet, but will find himself at the wrong end of Diaz’s jab, straights and body hooks if he decides to stand and trade for too long throughout the fight. Look for Diaz to control the center of the Octagon, where he’ll aggressively stalk and cut off Miller when given the opportunity.

The Clinch: Diaz – 7, Miller – 7.5

Miller’s gameplan will revolve around getting Diaz to the ground and staying on top of him as long as he can. In order to accomplish this, Miller will have to be stronger in the clinch and avoid Diaz’s Judo trips and hip-throws. With a clear strength advantage, look for Miller to push the skinnier Diaz to the cage, where he will drop for singles and doubles in hopes of landing in top position.

It seems unlikely that either guy will do much striking damage from the clinch, but don’t be fooled into thinking it doesn’t matter in the broader scheme of things. Diaz will try to use his length to frustrate and tie up Miller, but in the end, the longer the fight stays here, the easier it will be for Miller to get underhooks and ultimately the takedown.

Ground Game: Diaz 9, Miller 8.5

These guys are closely matched in this area, both sporting black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and having plenty of experience finishing opponents on the ground. In fact, it’s safe to say the outcome of this match will be determined by Diaz’s ability to stay patient off his back, countering mistakes, and how well Miller can stay in top position, where he can attempt his own submissions, drop some ground-and-pound, and convince the judges that his dominant positioning deserves their nods on the scorecards.

Despite being very evenly matched on the ground, the tides will turn in favor of Diaz’s unmatched cardio and slick submissions once Miller gets winded in the later stages of the fight. There is also a good chance that if Miller is being overly aggressive in Nate’s guard, we could see Diaz trap an arm for a triangle or armbar—signature submissions for lengthy fighters off their backs.

If Diaz stays patient and doesn’t give up too much positioning in the early stages of the fight, he should have a clear advantage on the ground towards the end for a potential hail mary submission victory.

Wrestling: Diaz – 6, Miller – 7.5

Throughout his career Diaz has spent a lot of time on his back, a testament to the confidence he brings off his back, but it also exposes a weakness in his sprawl and takedown defense. Plus being a taller lightweight with a long frame, he usually gives up power advantages, especially to good wrestlers, who have historically given Diaz problems, at least on the scorecards.

While Miller isn’t exactly a wrestling powerhouse in his own right, he does know how to take guys down with the use of his speed and explosiveness. There is nothing All-American about Miller’s wrestling pedigree, but his time competing in high school and Virginia Tech shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, fans shouldn’t be too surprised to see the Jersey native scores a handful of takedowns throughout the duration of the main event.

X-Factor

Both fighters are very tough to finish—Miller has never been knocked or tapped out and Diaz has only been stopped once by a Hermes Franca armbar back in 2006—with granite chins and elite submission defense. Though what they don’t share is cardio. Diaz participates in Triathlons with his brother Nick, a unique ritual that has helped both Cesar Gracie fighters withstand rounds and rounds of combat without gassing. Seeing a Diaz brother run out of steam in a fight is like not seeing a Diaz brother “mean-mug” in front of a camera—it just doesn’t happen.

Not to mention, Miller started looking a little fatigued towards the end of his decision loss to Henderson last summer, a concern we didn’t get a chance to see improved upon during his first-round submission win over Guillard the last time he competed.

Verdict: Diaz – 31, Miller – 30.5

Fans are in store for a very, very close battle between two guys who are equally resilient. It will be a grueling battle of attrition that will more than likely end by decision, an exciting and fan-pleasing decision. The underlying key will be positioning and cardio. If Miller can keep Diaz down and avoid submissions, he will look convincing to the judges. On the same token, if Diaz can avoid Miller’s takedowns and pepper his face with punches throughout the fight, judges will be impressed by the noticeable damage. Since Diaz’s cardio appears to be better than Miller’s, I like the Stockton kid’s chances of winning a decision victory.

Photo: Nate Diaz (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

This piece was authored by Joe Schafer. You can find Joe on Twitter: @joeschafer84

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