Kicking off the main card of UFC Fight Night 35 are two scrappy featherweights looking to build on recent wins. TUF alum Sam Sicilia, who got back on track with a TKO finish of Godofredo Castro, faces fellow TUF alum Cole Miller, who earned a unanimous decision victory over Andy Ogle. Each fighter will be looking to start a win streak by winning his second fight in a row.
Cole Miller (20-8 overall, 9-6 UFC)
Strengths: Submissions, grappling
Sam Sicilia (12-3 overall, 2-2 UFC)
Strengths: Punching power, submissions
Fight Breakdown – This is almost a classic case of striker vs. grappler. If you’ve seen Sam Sicilia in action, the guy has some wicked punching power. We are talking super explosive and if he’s accurate with the placement, his opponent is very likely to go “night-night”. He has done it to two guys in the UFC already. Problem is, he’s not always going to find his target and in pursuit of doing so, his opponent could just as easily find his chin, which is what Rony Bezerra did.
Now Miller is no stranger to striking, but he absolutely has to turn this into a grappling contest. Either that, or he has to pepper Sicilia early from top to bottom and take away the oomph of Sicilia’s punches. He must absolutely, absolutely dictate how this fight goes and it can’t be on Sicilia’s terms. Sicilia is going to come after Miller with his primary goal being to connect with Miller and knock him out cold. He is entirely capable of doing that, so Miller has to either keep the distance and pick his shots strategically, or close the distance and take away Sicilia’s ability to wind up and unload.
Miller is going to have a noticeable height advantage and if he’s smart about it, he can make Sicilia swing and miss all night. He’s got to keep an active pace and stay moving, and most importantly, he has to be 100% aware of Sicilia’s hands at all times. Forgetting about where his head is and where his feet are in relation to Sicilia’s punching paths could very easily lead to the end of the fight. If he stays wary of Sicilia’s hands and uses his own length and reach to good advantage, it’s going to be a tough fight for Sicilia.
Sicilia should focus on setting up angles and tagging Miller to make him second guess things and just keep him generally uncomfortable. He can’t let Miller find a rhythm with kicks and strikes that keep him at bay, he has to get inside Miller’s guard and keep him on the defensive, until he can track him down and really start landing some bombs. A barrage of leg and body kicks, and feinted kicks, would work well to get Miller’s attention away from the punches that Sicilia wants to throw.
Key to Victory: Can Sicilia stay on his feet and get past Miller’s defenses?
If Sicilia can manage to easily get within comfortable striking range against Miller, without taking a ton of punishment to do so, he can blow things up from the inside out. Miller is a tough fighter, but he’s not invincible and Sicilia could land some serious power strikes to make the big tree fall. But he has to avoid taking damage from Miller, who is very good at using his length and contact points to make guys think twice. If Sicilia can consistently get into that pocket, he’s going to put the hurt on Miller.
Why It Matters – Sam Sicilia has tons of potential and showed it during his TUF stint, as well as at the TUF 15 finale. But he ran into two grinders and lost back to back fights, before winning his most recent contest late last year. He’s got to string together some consistency in order to be more than the dreaded, overrated and underperforming TUF contestant. He doesn’t always have to get that big KO finish, although it’s an immensely exciting style. Sometimes, it’s more important to get the W and Sicilia has to show a well-rounded skill set in order to compete with guys in MMA today. If he wants to keep climbing that ladder, beating someone like Miller is essential. Otherwise, he’ll just be hanging onto the bottom rungs.
For Cole Miller, it may be too late to shed that label. He’s been in the UFC for well over five years now, and he’s alternated between wins and losses like your two favorite radio stations. Unless he somehow stuns us all and reaches a previously unattainable plateau, then we’ve very likely seen the best that Miller can do. He’s a middle of the pack fighter that will sometimes beat guys he shouldn’t and lose to guys that he should beat, but for the most part, as stated, he wins, then loses, then wins, then loses. It’s your typical computer adaptive test, once he beats a guy, he gets someone else and loses, going back to square one. It’s no knock on the guy since he’s an entertaining and skilled fighter, but again, unless he has an extra gear in him that no one has seen before, whether he wins or loses against Sicilia, expectations just won’t be that high.
Miller has tasted the sourness of multiple losses in the UFC before. He knows what it’s like. Sicilia hasn’t yet and he’ll be eager to avoid that feeling again. He’s hungry and wants to make a statement and against Miller, he will.
Prediction – Sicilia