While Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard basically stalled out the UFC Lightweight title chase for most of last year thanks to their UFC 125 draw and then dueling injuries, two of the more prominent characters who had to deal with the fallout were Jim Miller (20-3) and Melvin Guillard (29-9-2). Both rose to the precipice of a title shot only to eventually choke while in the on deck circle. Of course “choke” is a terribly brutal way of putting it as had there been any sort of motion at the top of the UFC’s most competitive division then one or both of these guys would have challenged the champ at some point in 2011. But it wasn’t meant to be as both were forced to keep fighting to stay busy and both were unable to keep their unbeaten streaks alive long enough to eventually cash in. Now thanks to some incredibly tough matchmaking from Joe Silva they will square off against each other Friday night in the main event of the inaugural show for the promotion on FX. For one of them it will be a chance to reenter the upper echelon and for the other it will mean a two fight skid and a tumble even further down the ladder. Such is life when you are a UFC lightweight.
Miller’s career has been a pretty spectacular thus far though his workmanlike, grind em out style has certainly won him no friends in the UFC front office. Back when Charles Oliveira was undefeated and not known for needing illegal knees to finish Nik Lentz Miller polished him off in no time with a slick looking knee bar submission. He went on from there to crush the also previous undefeated (and seemingly indestructible) Kamal Shalorus before coming face to face with Ben Henderson. We could make the point that the fights he had to take were challenging to a fault and that the UFC could have done more to protect him as a contender but that is neither here nor there next to the fact that he just got mauled that night by the man who will next month fly to Japan to take on Frankie Edgar. And as tough (and painful) as that loss was the reality is that Miller is still a top 10 lightweight whose only career losses have come against the top three guys in his weight class and a win on Friday will certainly put him right back “in the mix” (as they like to say).
Guillard’s ascent was more sudden. His rise to the top was helped greatly by Kenny Florian who bowed out of a fight with Evan Dunham which allowed Guillard to step in and blast the guy. He then creamed an outmatched Shane Roller and should have done the same to Joe Lauzon. But, unfortunately, he got clipped with a clean left that led to him tapping out 47 seconds into the fight. He too is looking to get back into the hunt and considering his age and, more importantly, the wear and tear on his body I think it is safe to say that it is all or nothing for him this weekend if his goal is to one day wear UFC gold. The game plan should be fairly obvious, he will look to overwhelm Miller early with his explosive offense. But Miller is an ultra tough combo of cerebral cool and physical sturdiness so the notion of Guillard just hotshoting his way through him strikes me as a tad unlikely. It should result in a highly entertaining first round though as Guillard will probably come at him with his entire repertoire while Miller will be forced into full on defensive mode hoping to hold on until Guillard either gets frustrated or gasses out.
I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Miller sacrifice the opening frame knowing that Guillard has a reputation for getting tired and coming off the battle plan in the later rounds. Henderson had all the luck a guy could ever hope for against Miller but he never really had him on the verge of being finished. He beat the hell out of him to be sure but he needed the State of Wisconsin judges to deliver the finishing blow. The fight is a real gem and makes the rest of this sour card somewhat worth it but choosing a winner is a tough endeavor. For me it comes down to my gut feeling that I trust Miller in a way that I could never trust Guillard. Maybe he’ll get lucky and maybe he’ll land a killer knee early on but overall I would consider Guillard too risky a bet. I’ll stick with Miller to outsmart his way to a late submission victory.
Pick: Miller via 3rd Round Submission
Tags: Ben Henderson, Charles Oliveira, Frankie Edgar, FX, Gray Maynard, Jim Miller, Joe Lauzon, Kenny Florian, Melvin Guillard, Mixed Martial Arts