MMA Review: #372: UFC On Fox: Diaz vs. Miller

-This was the UFC’s third prime time show on Fox and while they loaded the first one with the UFC HW Title fight and the second with some of the promotion’s biggest stars (Evans, Sonnen, Bisping), this one seemed much more low-key and aimed at hardcore fans – it was a fantastic card on paper but just not one to attract the eyes of the casuals. I was still super-pumped though, as the four televised fights looked incredible and there were some awesome prelims too.

UFC on Fox: Diaz vs. Miller

Newark, New Jersey

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Heavyweight Fight: Lavar Johnson vs Pat Barry

Barry had picked up a really important win in January over Christian Morecraft to keep his UFC career afloat, while Johnson had burst onto the scene from StrikeForce on the prelims of the last Fox card and became the first guy to stop Joey Beltran in the Octagon. The plan was clearly for a slugfest to open the televised card, and when you’re looking at a slugfest you pretty much have to favour Pat Barry against most guys in the world.

Fight begins and they throw a couple of punches before Barry lands with one of his leg kicks. Johnson clinches and forces him into the cage, landing a couple of knees before breaking off for a flurry. Barry fires back with a wild head kick from a pretty crazy angle but Johnson takes it and they back out. Johnson clinches again and lands another knee after taking a leg kick, and then follows with a couple more solid knees and some uppercuts. They trade off pretty wildly by the fence and Johnson seems to be getting the better of it, so Barry actually shoots for a takedown. Johnson sprawls to avoid, but Barry somehow gets him down and mounts him right away! Whoa. Into side mount now for Barry and it looks like he’s going for an Americana, but he can’t quite finish it off despite Johnson grimacing in pain. He gives up on it and lands some solid punches, but Johnson uses an underhook to escape to his feet. Good leg kick lands for Barry but Johnson starts to really chase him down. Big knee to the body from Johnson and he follows with one to the head before dropping Barry with a BIG HEAD KICK! Barry pops up but he’s in big trouble here and Johnson closes in and just goes WILD WITH MASSIVE POWER SHOTS until Barry FINALLY drops after taking ridiculous punishment. Jesus.

Did not expect that in a million years. Barry looked like the better technical striker but once Johnson landed with power that was pretty much that. Terrifying stuff as Barry looked out on his feet for ages before he finally went out and hit the deck. Johnson’s ground game looked terrible again but shit, when you can hit that hard you’re always dangerous. Fight went exactly as advertised.

Middleweight Fight: Alan Belcher vs Rousimar Palhares

Word coming into this one was that the winner would be firmly involved in the title picture, as Belcher had returned from a long time on the shelf to stop Jason MacDonald and looked like he hadn’t lost a step, while Toquinho had looked devastating in his last three wins over Mike Massenzio, Dan Miller and Dave Branch. While Belcher was a clear step up in competition from those three, I still thought he’d fall victim to the deadly leglock attack of the Brazilian here, hopefully setting up a title run for Toquinho.

Round One and Belcher presses forward carefully with a low stance. Snapping front kick just misses for Toquinho. Beautiful single leg from Palhares puts Belcher down and they roll around into a weird position with Belcher actually trying for the ultra-rare banana split submission! Toquinho naturally looks calm as hell though and this ranks up there with the weirdest positions I’ve seen in the UFC. Toquinho sits up though and suddenly it’s Belcher who’s in trouble as the Brazilian rolls onto the right leg and looks to secure his deadly heel hook. Belcher sits up though and keeps pushing Palhares’s hands off with his free leg. Must be said by the way that Joe Rogan’s commentary here is TREMENDOUS, breaking down the ground game perfectly as well as selling the fight. Belcher sits up and manages to drop some punches down, but Toquinho looks to have the heel hook locked up. Somehow though Belcher survives, and despite being in the most dangerous place possible with Palhares he manages to free himself. Toquinho goes for the heel hook AGAIN though but somehow Belcher spins free and ends up on top in guard! Palhares looks a bit confused and tired, and suddenly Belcher works to pass the guard, stacking the Brazilian up. BIG ELBOW lands for Belcher and suddenly he OPENS UP WITH A HEAVY FLURRY FROM THE GUARD, and Palhares stops defending and IT’S OVER! Crowd go INSANE and rightfully so.

Wow. Easily the most impressive performance of Alan Belcher’s UFC run and I totally buy the guy as a top level contender at this point. I mean sure, Toquinho had been beaten before but only by two top guys in Hendo and Marquardt, and nobody had been able to escape the sort of bad positions Belcher did here before. I just hope he bought whoever taught him leglock defence a drink, because they fucking deserve it. Massive pity he hasn’t been able to fight since, but he’s rematching Yushin Okami in a few weeks and if he beats him he’s probably due a title eliminator fight in 2013. Disappointing loss for Palhares though as it looked like he just shut down once he wasn’t able to get Belcher with the heel hook right away – almost like a video game boss or something, ha. Tremendously fun fight though!

-We get a couple of segments to plug Dos Santos vs. Mir which followed a few weeks after this show. Damnit I wish it’d been JDS vs. Reem!

Welterweight Fight: Johny Hendricks vs Josh Koscheck

After his wild KO win over Jon Fitch in December I think you could’ve argued a case for Hendricks to get a title shot, but with the title picture tied up due to GSP’s injury, Condit not wanting to defend the Interim belt and Diaz suspended, he was faced with another tough opponent in Fitch’s former teammate Koscheck instead. Most intriguing aspect of this one was that these guys in terms of credentials are the best two wrestlers at 170lbs and you could even argue that Hendricks has the better credentials than Koscheck. With Koscheck not really looking the same ever since GSP caved his face in, I was taking Hendricks to pick up his second huge win on the bounce.

Round One and Koscheck opens with a rare glancing head kick. They circle around before Kos throws another high kick that Hendricks blocks. Left hand glances for Hendricks and it looks like he got poked in the eye on the way out as he’s squinting badly. Announcers are really pushing that Koscheck wants to take revenge for his buddy Fitch, but that doesn’t really work as a revenge storyline only works for likeable guys and obviously Koscheck isn’t one of them. Flurry connects for Koscheck and Hendricks has to cover up as he still looks to be having issues with his right eye. Koscheck keeps coming, but Hendricks manages to stop the onslaught by firing some punches back. Hendricks is still wiping his eye. Nice uppercut and a left hand from Hendricks lands and he backs Kos into the fence and gets a takedown. Koscheck works to get back up and does so as Hendricks stays on him with some knees to the thighs. Action slows down and referee Kevin Mulhall calls the clean break. Hendricks is still clearly having issues with his eye even now. Couple of left hands glance for Hendricks and then they both throw high kicks before Koscheck lands with a pair of powerful right hooks. Takedown attempt from Hendricks but Koscheck blocks it and swings him around before breaking off. Good combo from Koscheck has Hendricks covering up again. Stats surprisingly show Hendricks has landed more strikes. Left hook lands for Hendricks. Thirty seconds to go and both men glance with some shots. Hendricks backs Koscheck up with a couple of shots but Koscheck keeps pushing forward. Body kick lands for Koscheck. Round ends shortly after. 10-9 Koscheck I guess but how much of that was due to the eye poke I wouldn’t like to say.

Round Two and Koscheck pushes forward but takes a couple of left hooks that force him onto the retreat. Big left hand misses for Hendricks. Uppercut lands though. Left hand backs Koscheck up again but he comes back with a takedown and spins onto the back. Hendricks blocks him from getting the hooks in though and works to his feet. Knee separates for Koscheck. Joe Rogan mentions Koscheck’s right eye is swellin up which is bad. Double leg attempt from Hendricks and he forces Koscheck down onto one knee. Position stalls out a bit as Hendricks lands some knees to the legs again as Koscheck stands. Ref calls a break again and Koscheck misses a wild overhand right. Beautiful lead right uppercut from Hendricks snaps Koscheck’s head right back and he follows with a solid combo. Takedown attempt from Koscheck is blocked and Hendricks grabs a clinch and forces him into the fence. Good elbow by Koscheck from the clinch though and they break off. Left hand connects for Hendricks. This is a much better fight than I remembered. Head kick glances for Kos. Couple of combos glance for Hendricks. Right hand answers for Koscheck. Seconds to go and Hendricks lands the left a couple of times before going for a takedown to end the round. 10-9 Hendricks to even things up.

Round Three begins as both men miss some strikes, but it’s Koscheck stalking forward. Single leg attempt from Koscheck but Hendricks stuffs it and we’re at a stalemate on the cage again. Ref calls the clean break again and Koscheck throws a couple of jabs before they trade shots pretty wildly, neither man getting the big advantage. Good combo from Hendricks but he takes a solid counter from Koscheck. Hendricks lands with the left hand though and Koscheck looks wobbled, retreating but trying to fire back at the same time as Hendricks closes in. Right hand connects for Koscheck and the clinch and exchange some uppercuts. Koscheck’s right eye looks like hell. Ref calls the break again and Koscheck lands a body kick, but Hendricks answers with a left hand and a hard knee. Takedown attempt from Koscheck and this time he gets it, dumping Hendricks onto his back and advancing into half-guard. He looks to pass that, yanking at his leg to get it free, but Hendricks locks it down and then uses butterfly guard to escape full mount. Koscheck tries to drop the elbows, but he’s having a hard time securing a base here. Looks like he might end the fight on top, though. Seconds to go and Koscheck lands some decent shots to the body, and that’s the fight. REALLY close round but I’d lean slightly towards Hendricks I think, despite the takedown at the end, as he largely outlanded Koscheck standing.

Judges have it 29-28 Hendricks….29-28 Koscheck…..and 29-28 Hendricks for the split decision win! Really close fight – it definitely could’ve gone either way and I don’t think either man could’ve claimed a robbery or anything – but it was nice to see Hendricks pick up the win given that Koscheck took the first round largely due to flurries he landed after an eye poke, which has become somewhat of a trademark for him as of late. Really good fight overall actually as both men landed some heavy shots and went blow-for-blow a number of times as the wrestling skill of both men pretty much cancelled itself out. On a side note Hendricks is now on a pretty ridiculous run and if he doesn’t get a title shot in 2013 it’s pretty fucking criminal.

Lightweight Fight: Nate Diaz vs Jim Miller

Winner here was apparently promised a title shot which was surprising to me as I figured Anthony Pettis should’ve been next in line, but I mean, I wasn’t complaining as these two had been on impressive runs too, with Miller choking out Melvin Guillard in his previous fight while Diaz had stopped the great run of Donald Cerrone. This was a close fight to call on paper but I had a gut feeling that Miller’s wrestling and toughness would be enough to carry him to a semi-controversial decision.

Fight begins with Miller wading forward, and he lands a solid leg kick. Diaz looks calm though and looks to use his reach before they clinch. Miller backs him up into the cage and they exchange strikes from close quarters, with both men landing some nice shots. Miller slips to the ground off a knee and that causes the break. Good right hand to counter a leg kick by Diaz, and he breaks a clinch quickly too. Good right hook lands for Diaz. Couple of body shots follow and Diaz is beginning to string his combinations together. Left hand over the top glances for Miller but Diaz lands a combo again to set up the clinch. They exchange knees and muscle for position again before Miller drops for a single leg. Diaz avoids it and looks like he’s going for a guillotine, landing a hard knee in the process. Good body shot from Diaz before they break off. Diaz is beginning to take over here. Couple of shots connect for Miller from close range but Diaz walks him down and then cracks him with a left hand that drops him to a knee! He looks for the takedown, but Nate sprawls out and then looks to spin to the back. Miller reverses position and almost takes his back though, and then they come up with Miller getting a takedown before Diaz sweeps him and escapes to his feet. Great round; 10-9 Nate Diaz.

Into the 2nd and Miller opens with a decent leg kick. Into the clinch and Diaz muscles Miller into the cage and works him over with some dirty boxing. Good left elbow breaks for Miller though. Diaz clinches again and shoves him back into the fence, before they break off. Nice right hand lands for Diaz in a brief exchange. Miller connects with a left but Diaz is still outlanding him. Good knee inside the clinch from Diaz and he follows with a right hook and then taunts Miller. Miller tries a flying knee but it doesn’t land cleanly and Diaz makes him pay with a one-two. Front kick lands to Diaz’s face but it only makes him angry as he hurls a torrent of abuse at Miller and then lands with a combo into the clinch. Short punches inside from Diaz and Miller’s nose is bloody now. They muscle along the fence and Diaz lands some good knees before looking to set up for a possible front choke as Miller drops to his knees. He comes back up but takes some more knees from Diaz before they break. More taunting from Diaz and he walks Miller down with some more punches. Big combo has Miller hurt and he shoots, but Diaz locks up a guillotine on the way down and adjusts it nicely. Miller tries to roll, but finds himself mounted in a deep choke and has to tap out there!

Unbelievable stuff and a total coming out party for Nate Diaz, as he’d shown flashes of elite-level talent in his previous two fights but really put everything together here to become the first fighter to ever stop Jim Miller. I mean, you can’t really put enough emphasis on how impressive that is – Ben Henderson beat Miller, sure, but even he didn’t handle him quite like Diaz did here. Whether he can follow this up by winning the title from Henderson this Saturday I’m not sure, but he definitely deserves the title shot and I can’t wait for the fight. As for this one, it was a hugely entertaining main event as you’d expect whenever a Diaz brother is involved. Sick choke for the finish too as poor Miller almost chewed his own tongue off. Post-fight Diaz puts over Gilbert Melendez rather than call out Benson Henderson. Hell of a guy!

-Curt Manafee, Randy Couture and Brian Stann wrap up the night’s action and show the highlight reel and that is that, baby.

Final Thoughts….

For a four-fight show this was pretty fucking tremendous, really – no boring fights, three great finishes and the one fight that went the distance was a really damn good scrap too. My favourite fight was Palhares/Belcher but really you could give the ‘best fight’ award to any of the four, while none of the fights were bad in any way. My one gripe would be they had time to show one of the prelims (Gaudinot/Lineker was a low end FOTYC) but didn’t bother, which is a little frustrating, but c’est la vie. Awesome stuff.

Best Fight: Palhares vs. Belcher
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time…