Sooner or later it'll be Miller Time
Jim Miller doesn't have a menacing nickname. He's odd that way.
Odder still, the further up the rungs he goes in the UFC's lightweight division, the more he'd like to live off the grid in New Jersey's countryside. In essence, the proceeds he's making as a prizefighter are helping him toward becoming a hermit. That's difficult to market. And that's why, though he'll be fighting in his lucky thirteenth UFC event (against Nate Diaz on Saturday), this will only be the second time he's headlined a card. He's the quietest 10-2 to ever compete in the UFC. A lot of people still don't know Jim Miller.
Yet plenty know his work. He was the one who painted the canvas with Mac Danzig's blood at UFC 100. It was a work of violent expressionism that he did back in his Prelim Era.
Miller's fight on national television this weekend will be his first big-time exposure, and it should turn people onto the idea that he's a very live threat to win the UFC's lightweight belt. Nate Diaz, the volume slapboxer from the 209? Tailor-made for a clock-puncher like Miller. And if the road from there leads to Anthony Pettis and a No. 1 contender's bout, Miller looks like the perfect foil for "Showtime," too. He's the pestle in that match-up. Wrestling, wrestling, wrestling.
But let's not get too ahead of ourselves.
I know, I know -- he has lost to three of the top lightweights in the course of his career, but the Frankie Edgar fight was back in 2006 when Miller was only 22 years old and still very green. The Gray Maynard bout? Miller has chalked up as a valuable lesson that set up a seven-fight win streak. And by now you've heard what was going on with him in his bout with Benson Henderson -- a kidney infection and mononucleosis are hard inflictions to overcome on fight night.
Yet leaving excuses out of it, the truth of the matter is that Jim Miller is a complete fighter, with wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing and cage acumen. He's terrific in a scramble. His chin is unquestionable. And at 5-foot-8, he's got attack dog aggression. Plus, he's slick. Remember when he tapped the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Charles Oliveira with a kneebar? That's no-nonsense stuff. Melvin Guillard had one goal after being choked out by Joe Lauzon, and that was not to get choked out again. Miller choked him out again.
He's not great at any one thing, but Miller is very good at everything. This has long been the formula for ultimate success in MMA. Miller has stumbled in big spots, but it'll only help him down the line in bigger spots still.
Can he beat Benson Henderson? Let's put it this way -- if he's healthy, I like his chances a lot better in a rematch. He's 28 years old and just coming into his prime. Plus, he keeps adding tools. Henderson took him down at will the first time through. The second time? It's a great intangible, but wills work both ways.
Miller just doesn't size up well
Kenny Florian, Dan Henderson, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck -- a few of the best fighters to ever compete in the UFC and never win a title. Sadly, I see the name "Jim Miller" being added to this list someday.
Despite all the reasons we have to believe Miller will hold UFC gold someday (young, well-rounded, intelligent, consistent), there are three major obstacles he faces that makes it hard for me to ever see a UFC belt around his waist.
The first is size. It's not everything, but it matters, especially at the top of the class. There are always exceptions to the rule, but consider the champions right now. Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Ben Henderson, Dominick Cruz -- all considered big in their respective divisions.
Miller's not necessarily tiny for a lightweight. He's bigger than Frankie Edgar, who has done fairly well for himself at 155. But don't kid yourself. Size is a coveted advantage in combat sports and Miller forfeits it in the majority of his fights.
Obstacle No. 2 is the division in which he competes. If Miller were a heavyweight, no problem, chalk him down for at least one title run. Lightweight is a different animal and Miller has expressed to me a drop to 145 is unrealistic.
Lightweights need to string together more wins to earn a title shot and they need to do it impressively. You can't pull a Quinton Jackson here, as in, take decision wins over Lyoto Machida and Matt Hamill and find yourself in a title fight. Every step up the ladder is a struggle and anyone in the top 10 is capable of beating the other nine.
On top of that, Gilbert Melendez is coming over at some point. The UFC is interested in adding Eddie Alvarez. Not that Miller can't beat any of these guys, but the title shot which is already the most difficult to earn in the UFC is about to get tougher.
And that brings us to the final aspect hurting Miller's chances -- marketability. It doesn't matter to some, but it matters to those who make the big decisions. Every time Miller loses, he's going to take two steps back instead of one because he simply is not the household name that some other fighters are.
That's starting to change. The fact the UFC is willing to headline a card on Fox with Miller shows the confidence it has in his ability to put on a good show. But free TV is different than pay-per-view, which is where the majority of title fights take place. Unless Miller builds a case in which it becomes literally impossible to give him a title fight, he'll always come as a second thought to a more marketable guy. Unfair? Absolutely. But the truth? Yes.
For the record, this is one argument I'll gladly be wrong on. Miller has been a terrific talent in the UFC for years, most of which he's been heavily undervalued. He'll get his due eventually as one of the best lightweights in the world, but the belt will be elusive.
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