Nick Diaz and Jim Miller headline the third UFC on Fox event this Saturday night, which takes place live in East Rutherford, New Jersey. There is a title shot on the line- well, for one of the two men (more on that later)- and plenty of other good action on the main card, as well. If you really can’t get enough MMA on Saturday, two Facebook prelims and six (!) Fuel TV prelims should help satiate you for the weekend, at least. On with the picks!
Pat Barry vs. Lavar Johnson
Barry may just be the best 4-4 fighter in UFC history. At least two of those fights that went down as losses had him in control of the action before he somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Barry has been accused of everything from a lack of killer instinct to a lack of dedication in his training and yeah, nutrition as well.
Johnson is making his second UFC appearance after a pretty good recent run. He won three of five in Strikeforce (though he dropped his last two appearances) before knocking out Joey Beltran in his UFC debut. Beltran is tough as nails, so that’s a real achievement and shows you the kind of power that Johnson has. Obviously, this fight features two very capable heavyweights, and so comes down to execution.
I actually think Barry’s often-passive approach will work for him here. He will need to be more cautious in the early goings and pick away at Johnson with leg kicks and smart combinations. Johnson could either rage out on Barry and take his chances or get suckered into a more methodical approach. I think either suits Barry, as long as he’s smart enough not to get suckered into an all-out slugfest. With heavyweights, that kind of situation might as well be a coin flip, since the outcome mainly defends on whose powerful punch lands on the button first.
On the mat, Barry would not be in as much trouble as people think. I do think he’s a bit of a front-runner and could be worn down if Johnson can grind on him a bit, but I think Barry’s usage of distance and defensive wrestling makes that fairly unlikely.
Prediction: Barry by KO/TKO
Alan Belcher vs. Rousimar Palhares
I was a big believer in Belcher pre-injury, and even in his return against Jason MacDonald after a long layoff, I thought he looked better than expected. The UFC must have agreed, because they gave him a fight against another middleweight who is knocking on the door of the top ten rankings, Rousimar Palhares.
While Belcher depends on his leg kicks to keep opponents off balance, Palhares simply looks to prey upon the legs of his opponents. Palhares is fresh off yet another win by vicious heel hook, which makes it four of his last five bouts that he has won with that particularly devastating submission.
When someone at this level of competition is able to continue succeeding with the same submission hold despite the fact that his opponents absolutely know he’s looking for it, it’s a pretty impressive thing. The thing is, Palhares sets up his heel hooks beautifully either by pretending to be focused on top control or just clocking his opponents while standing before using the ensuing scramble to get their leg.
Just as Barry needs to against Johnson, Belcher has to control distance. However, Belcher’s situation is much more dire, as Palhares is absolutely deadly on the mat. While Belcher is no slouch himself, he simply isn’t going to fend off Palhares indefinitely should they hit the mat. Also, keeping Palhares off of you is a difficult task. Palhares is always moving forward, and though his striking is unrefined, he packs some power in his strikes. In the end, I think Palhares will survive some sharp striking by Belcher en route to a submission win.
Prediction: Palhares by submission
Johny Hendricks (#5 WW) vs. Josh Koscheck (#4 WW)
Something happened to Koscheck in his title shot with Georges St. Pierre. I think St. Pierre fundamentally broke Koscheck, turning him into a wary striker who is ultimately too concerned about counter-strikes to really commit to his offense. For evidence, watch Koscheck’s fight with Mike Pierce, where Koscheck looked jumpy, uncomfortable, and just plain cautious as he occasionally threw single shots, hoping they’d land.
Koscheck has always been a guy who likes to load up one punch at a time (or at least, he has been since he realized he has concussive power in his right hand), but with his newfound timidity, he’s decidedly less dangerous than before. Meanwhile, Hendricks is a tough matchup whether Koscheck is on his game or not. Hendricks packs power just like Koscheck does, but is a more dynamic striker who throws combinations instead of easily-detected single haymakers. There is absolutely no question here that Hendricks is the better striker, though the threat of Koscheck landing a Hail Mary shot is always a possibility.
The wrestling is pretty close here. I think Kos is a better pure wrestler, but Hendricks may have better defensive wrestling and transitions between his striking and his shots. It doesn’t hurt that since Hendricks’ striking is less predictable, his shots are therefore harder to see coming. Either way, I see this being a largely standup battle, which isn’t something Koscheck is likely to win. This may be the start of a downward slide for Koscheck. The safe pick is Hendricks by decision, but I’ll select a more explosive method of victory.
Prediction: Hendricks by KO/TKO
Nate Diaz (#9 LW) vs. Jim Miller (#6 LW)
So, while we know that Anthony Pettis is (once again) “next in line” for a title shot, whoever wins this should be next-in-”next in line”, right?
Nope. UFC President and Czar of Irrefutable Logic Dana White said that if Diaz wins, he will be in line for a title shot, while Miller will be “a fight or two away”. Wait, what?!?
Diaz has won exactly two fights in a row since back to back losses against Rory MacDonald and Dong Hyun Kim. In fact, you have to go back to Nate’s first five UFC fights in 2007 and 2008 to find a time where he won more than two fights in a row inside the Octagon. In fact, since that promising run to start his UFC career, he’s gone a mediocre 5-5.
Then you have Miller, who is 10-2 in his UFC career, with his only losses being against two guys you may have heard of- Gray Maynard and, more recently, Ben Henderson. Since the Maynard loss, Miller has won 8 out of 9 UFC fights. Sure, the Henderson loss was only two fights ago, but a) Henderson is the current champ, for God’s sake, and b) the guy’s won 8 out of 9 fights!
Dana’s right, one of these guys should still be one or two fights away from a title shot, but it’s not Miller who should be- it’s Diaz. So Miller is apparently in the Jon Fitch Doghouse where you have to win more than a half-dozen fights in a row to earn a title shot, while Diaz’s path appears to be a bit more…”Dan Hardy”-like? Whatever. Nobody ever said this was anything but “sports entertainment”, right? Ahem.
Either way, I guess Diaz has to get past Miller to get a title shot, and I do agree he’ll have earned one if he does get by Miller. I just also think Miller deserves one if he beats Diaz, that’s all. Can Diaz do it? Well, Diaz figures to use about the same strategy he always does, which is to pursue Miller and frustrate him with a slightly-different approach to the high volume striking attack that his brother Nick has perfected.
However, Miller is no slouch in the standup. I haven’t forgotten him out-striking Duane “Bang” Ludwig in their UFC 108 matchup, and Diaz better not have, either. Miller is a fundamentally sound, relatively no-frills striker who is all about intelligent, well-timed combinations. He has a little power to him, but doesn’t sell out to land the kinds of glorious power shots that his contemporaries often chase after. He’s like Diaz in that way.
Diaz doesn’t have the striking accuracy that he needs to really take his standup to the next level, and he lacks the cumulative power that his brother packs in his deceptively harmless looking strikes, too. On the mat, he’s very dangerous, especially when on his back, but Miller is smart enough to stay out of trouble and may not look to take him down in the early goings, anyway. I don’t think Diaz will have enough to keep Miller off of him, and as a result, Miller wins a competitive but clear decision in a fight that rarely, if ever, goes to the floor.
Prediction: Miller by decision