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Friday, 05/04/2012, 02:44 pm

"UFC on Fox 3: Diaz vs Miller" Preview and Predictions


By George Deutsch:

UFC on Fox 3 is upon us, and though it may lack star power — other than Josh Koscheck — the card promises to be competitive with title implications involved.

Here are my thoughts on what you can expect when the UFC rolls into the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, tomorrow.

Nate Diaz (15-7 MMA, 10-5 UFC) vs. Jim Miller (21-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC):
This is a matchup of two truly talented lightweights, both of whom are on the cusp of title contention. Dana White said as much earlier this week, though only Diaz would get a guaranteed shot at the winner of the Ben Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar rematch with a victory here, as a Miller win would still leave him “a fight or two away” from title contention, according to White.

Still, expect this one to be a barn burner, with each fighter having more on his mind than a shot at the 155 lbs. crown. Miller has admirably dedicated much of his attention lately to helping raise money for his 2-year-old nephew Daniel in an effort to care for the child, who’s dealing with polycystic kidney disease. For his part, Diaz has had to carry the flag of the Diaz brothers by himself these past several months, as his suspended brother Nick is embroiled in litigation with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

And those issues could either serve as distractions or, more likely, as fuel for the respective fighters’ fires. The bottom line is that, come Saturday, the 6’0”, rangy Ultimate Fighter 5 winner Diaz will take his boxing prowess and Cesar Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt into the Octagon against former Virginia Tech wrestler and fellow BJJ black belt and submission artist Miller. Two men enter, one man leaves.

And while it’s anyone’s guess who’ll take this fight, I’m giving the nod to Diaz. Much like his brother, he has great cardio, reach and sheer punch volume. It’s going to be a challenge for Miller to get inside and land his offense. Moreover, the Diaz brothers — and Nate has shown that he’s more than willing to steal a page from Nick’s book here — have consistently been able to get inside their opponents’ heads with trash talk and taunting. Ask Nate’s last opponent Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone if you don’t believe me.

Miller should definitely get his due. He’s a great wrestler with solid grappling and submission skills in his own right. And he’s got a ton of heart, which will only be strengthened by fighting in front of a friendly home crowd in his native New Jersey. He could very easily win this fight. But Miller isn’t as close to fighting for a title shot as Diaz is, and at 5’8”, he gives up a full 5-inch reach advantage to Diaz.

Plus, Diaz has been on a tear since returning to the lightweight division, besting former Pride Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi and the aforementioned Cerrone in his last two bouts. And while Miller looked good landing a rear naked choke in his most recent bout against Melvin Guillard, Diaz beat Guillard before “the Young Assassin” entered his recent two-fight skid, interrupting what was otherwise an eight-fight win streak.

In the end, I think Miller will fall victim to the momentum that’s carrying Diaz right now. And there’s no shame in losing to one of the Diaz brothers.

Prediction: Diaz

Josh Koscheck (17-5 MMA, 15-5 UFC) vs. Johny Hendricks (12-1 MMA, 7-1 UFC):
Josh Koscheck has been through a lot lately, and not everything is going his way at the moment. His fight with Johny Hendricks Saturday will be his first since his ugly breakup with the famed American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., which he left to train with his new camp in Fresno.

The world watched in February as a listless Koscheck won a split-decision victory over Mike Pierce in a fight his heart clearly wasn’t in. And how can anyone forget Kos looking like he was going to lose an eye following his UFC 124 loss to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre? That injury required orbital bone surgery.

And in case you hadn’t heard, Koscheck is 34 years old, with pundits saying his window of opportunity to challenge for the 170 lbs. strap is rapidly closing. Many also consider Koscheck to be one of the most hated figures in all of mixed martial arts today.

I assure you, things are not as bad as they seem.

As anyone who watched the recent Cribs-inspired edition of UFC Ultimate Insider saw, Koscheck is clearly living large out in Fresno. The dude’s got a waterfront mansion with a Ferrari and a plane. The takeaway — beyond the fact that Koscheck is a good money manager — is that this is a big-name fighter who’s headlined UFC cards before and been in the Octagon with some of the best in the sport, cashing in in the process.

And let’s not forget, Kos has only lost one of his last six fights: the loss to St-Pierre. In that same time, he’s beaten UFC legend Matt Hughes, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Frank Trigg and Pierce. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who’s allegedly getting “old.”

But this story’s about more than just Koscheck, as Dana White has said the rapidly-rising Hendricks will get a title opportunity with a victory Saturday. Koscheck, on the other hand, is in a similar situation to Jim Miller, in that he’s still a few victories away from being in title contention again. I guess there’s only so many times you can watch someone get beaten by GSP.

What we’re left with are two experienced, NCAA Division I All-American wrestlers — Hendricks an Oklahoma State standout and Koscheck a star at Edinboro University — with good power and heavy hands. Koscheck is known for his lethal right hand, and Hendricks for his unforgiving left.

And it was this left hand of Hendricks that nearly knocked the head off of Jon Fitch this past December, a punch that lead Koscheck to say Hendricks “won the lottery.” But there’s the rub: since his three-round decision victory over Pierce this past August, Hendricks has spent only about 12 seconds in active competition inside the Octagon. That’s 12 seconds over a nine month span, which is enough to make you question where his cardio will be, or if he’ll have a little ring rust going into his bout against Koscheck.

Here’s something else to consider. Other than Fitch and arguably Pierce, Hendricks simply hasn’t faced the same kind of top-level competition Koscheck has, and he certainly hasn’t been headlining fight cards. Hendricks isn’t an Ultimate Fighter winner, as Koscheck is. He hasn’t faced a GSP or a Hughes. He hasn’t beaten guys like Diego Sanchez, Trigg or Johnson.

And in the end, that’s what will make the difference in this fight: experience. Koscheck has been here before; Hendricks really hasn’t. Advantage, Koscheck.

Prediction: Koscheck

Rousimar Palhares (14-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) vs. Alan Belcher (17-6 MMA, 8-4 UFC):
Frank Mir often jokes about having the arms and legs of his submitted opponents sitting atop his mantle at home, and if that’s true, Rousimar Palhares must have a shoe store’s worth of fallen opponents’ heels on his own mantle. The man has done for the heel hook what Ronda Rousey did for the armbar.

A leg lock expert and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Murilo Bustamante, “Toquinho” enters this Saturday’s bout as the heavy Vegas favorite against fellow BJJ black belt Alan Belcher, and rightfully so. Anyone who saw his most recent bout with Mike Massenzio at UFC 142 in January knows Palhares can pull guard and submit someone in a matter of seconds. In Massenzio’s case, it took precisely 63 seconds. Palhares has won five of his nine UFC bouts by submission, with three of those coming by heel hook. Only one of his past six fights has even made it out of the second round.

Alan Belcher is a tough guy in his own right. He has good striking and submissions himself, and is a very well rounded fighter. Ask Jason MacDonald, Patrick Cote and Wilson Gouveia, his past three opponents. Those three fights, however, date back to December 2009, as Belcher’s only fought three times in the past two-and-a-half years. A 2010 eye injury sidelined him for nearly a year, and while Belcher’s ostensibly recovered from it, prolonged inactivity is never good for a fighter’s career. That he’s fought less than three full rounds since the beginning of 2010 could impact his preparation and cardio, and also foretell some possible ring rust.

All that aside, Belcher’s going to encounter much bigger problems when he ends up on the ground and in Palhares’ guard, which is akin to swimming in shark-infested waters, no matter who you are. And make no mistake, he will end up in Palhares’ guard at some point in this fight, likely sooner than later. From there, it becomes academic, and Toquinho gets another limb for his mantle.

Prediction: Palhares

Patrick Barry (7-4 MMA, 4-4 UFC) vs. Lavar Johnson (16-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC):
This is a battle of two big men who can throw leather. Barry is the more established UFC fighter who has fought some tough competition since entering the company, including Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Cheick Kongo and Stefan Struve. His kicks can be devastating — not just his highly-touted leg kicks, but also his head kicks, which not a lot of heavyweights throw.

For his part, Johnson is a WEC and Strikeforce veteran, having fought in those companies before either was purchased by Zuffa. He has great power and striking and can surprise opponents with solid knees in the clinch. Working in Johnson’s favor is his significant height and reach advantage over Barry, as he stands 6’4” to Barry’s 5’11” and has an 81” reach to Barry’s 74.5”. Being able to keep his distance and work his strikes will be his biggest challenge in this fight.

It will also be interesting to watch how good Johnson’s cardio proves to be. In 21 fights, he’s never gone the distance, taking 14 of his 16 wins by knockout or TKO and one by submission to strikes. He hasn’t even been to the third round in a fight since 2005. The fact that neither man has very good submission defense likely won’t be an issue here.

I’m looking for Barry to set up the victory with those vicious kicks. Particularly if the fight enters the later rounds, Johnson may be in for a long night.

Prediction: Barry

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