It’s been a few months since the UFC last hosted a Wednesday night event, but after a long Independence Day weekend of two events and several other activities, a 10-day break is exactly what fans, fighters, coaches and Zuffa staff need before continuing on with the busy summer schedule. On Wednesday, July 16, the promotion returns to the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., and, while the literal fireworks of July 4 may be over, the proverbial fireworks are sure to fly in one of the most exciting lightweight match-ups of the year.

At UFC Fight Night 45, veterans Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Jim Miller will headline the summer’s first mid-week event. The two exciting finishers will try to earn a spot in line for a title shot in one of the organization’s most stacked divisions.

Cerrone, a longtime Jackson-Winkeljohn mainstay whose WEC roots date back to 2007, is currently riding a three-fight winning streak, with all three fights earning him “of the Night” honors. He has only been stopped twice during his 30-fight career, and those losses came at the hands of current UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis and top title contender Benson Henderson. With notable wins against over a dozen world-class guys, including the likes of Edson Barboza, Jeremy Stephens, Dennis Siver, Jamie Varner and K.J. Noons, Cerrone has a ton of experience against tough opponents. But before he can get in line, he will have to face one of his toughest opponents ever in Miller.

Miller has been tearing up the UFC since 2008, and that run has earned him six “of the Night” honors, which is very impressive, but isn’t quite close to Cowboy’s whopping 14 performance bonuses. The New Jersey native fights out of AMA Fight Club in his home state, where he trains with his brother, Dan, who is a fellow UFC competitor. Two years ago, Miller was one fight away from a shot at then-champion Henderson, before he suffered his first submission loss to Nate Diaz. Only two fights later, he was submitted by Pat Healy, only to have the result overturned when Healy tested positive for marijuana. Miller is now back in the saddle, having earned two submissions in a row over opponents Yancy Medeiros and Fabricio Camoes. Even though he has already faced guys like Joe Lauzon, Gray Maynard, Melvin Guillard and Duane Ludwig, Cerrone—especially today’s Cerrone—could be one of his biggest challenges yet.

One man is going to have his streak come to an end on Wednesday night at UFC Fight Night 45, and the fans are in for one of the most electric match-ups of the summer season. As Cerrone and Miller step into the cage, both men know there is a lot on the line as they vie to remain relevant in the coveted UFC lightweight title hunt. Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up, and as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Cerrone – 10, Miller – 10

On the surface, Cerrone is obviously the more technically proficient striker. With a ton of kickboxing experience and knockout power in his feet, the quick, aggressive Cowboy is a force to be reckoned with in any striking match-up. However, Miller’s striking style has served him well against his opponents.

Miller is a pitbull in the striking department. He comes in low, presses forward constantly and carries heavy hands. The guy can take a punch, too, and he has never been knocked out. Cerrone is a great striker in range, but he doesn’t handle forward-pressing opponents very well. He may have had a crazy comeback knockout win over Guillard in his hometown fight at UFC 150 in Denver, but that was an anomaly. Cerrone’s other two knockouts came by a rangy head kick and a body hook that led to a ground-and-pound TKO.

Cerrone may have the advantage in striking skills, but Miller’s style is tough to neutralize. This lends to a toss-up in the striking department.

Submission Grappling: Cerrone – 10, Miller – 10

Miller and his brother are both black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Jim holds 13 submission wins in MMA to go with his years of submission grappling experience. Cerrone may not have the formal BJJ pedigree, but the kickboxer-turned-MMA fighter has 15 submission wins in 30 fights, so that stat pretty much speaks to his grappling prowess.

Cerrone, for a long time, was known for his wicked triangle chokes, but he has spread his wings into guillotine chokes, armbars and rear-naked chokes, showing the depth of his arsenal. Cowboy has a much longer, rangier frame than most of his opponents, as is the case against Miller. He is like an octopus on the mat, and he can get his tentacles around almost anyone’s neck. Miller will attack any part of the body, including legs, arms, neck or whatever else his opponent leaves open.

The truth is, some may assume that in a pure grappling match Miller would have the upper hand, but this isn’t a BJJ tournament. As far as MMA-centric submission grappling goes, both of these guys are extremely dangerous on the ground, and this contest could end in a submission victory for either party.

Wrestling: Cerrone – 9, Miller – 10

Cerrone has not dealt with many—if any—big-framed wrestlers in the past. But, his kryptonite is hard pressure, and this is where Miller excels.

As a kid, Miller was a wrestler who went on to compete for one year in the NCAA Division I program at Virginia Tech. In his MMA career, he has always carried the attributes of a seasoned wrestler. To Cerrone’s credit, he does have a very good takedown defense and his kickboxing is very effective in the clinch, but Miller will apply the pressure, control the top if it hits the mat and, if the fight makes it that far, outwrestle the Cowboy.

Miller takes the wrestling department hands down.

X-factor

As has been alluded to multiple times above, Miller’s fighting style is the x-factor in this match-up. Cerrone does not do well under pressure. He may flourish in striking when his opponents keep a safe range, albeit with a little stand-and-bang element sprinkled in, but Miller is not that guy. Miller presses hard and throws big bombs. This is not going to be a point-fighting contest, and that doesn’t’ bode well for Cerrone.

Total: Cerrone – 29, Miller – 30

Verdict: The only way this fight goes Cerrone’s way is if he gets a flash knockout, which is unlikely against a hard-headed Miller, or if he gets Miller hurt enough to get a submission. However, that is not likely to happen either.

Miller is going to put the heat on Cowboy, get and stay inside, and push him against the cage. This is not Cerrone’s ideal range, and Miller’s high-pressure style is not going to let up, even if this one makes it the distance. If it does hit the mat, Miller will use his power and technique to maintain top control, and, if he doesn’t get caught in a triangle, he will likely grind out the clock or get a TKO.

This is a really difficult outcome to predict, because it could go so many ways. However, statistically speaking, this one appears to be going in favor of Miller by unanimous decision.

  • Christian

    There is no way, with a straight face, you can compare the striking proficiency of these two fighters as even. Cerrone is not only vastly superior from a technical aspect, he’s handled some other good-great standup guys in the cage. Guillard, Stephens, Noons, Barboza, Siver…the list goes on. Miller is gritty in the standup, but outside of Kamal Shalorus he has never handled somebody with his hands.

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