Nate Diaz vs Jim Miller
A chance at a title shot has long eluded Jim Miller, who at one time was recognized as a top three lightweight when he was amassing a seven fight win streak after losing to Gray Maynard in early 2009. He hit a setback when current champion Benson Henderson soundly defeated him last year. After the loss Miller rallied in his next fight to finish Melvin Guillard after some close calls early. Nate Diaz took a short lived hiatus from the lightweight division in early 2010 but has since returned to 155lbs and decimated Takanori Gomi before doing to Donald Cerrone what we've never seen anyone else do before, which is convincingly outstrike him and even overwhelm him with strikes. Now the two meet and the winner gets a spot in line to face whomever emerges champion when Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar rematch later this year.
This is the kind of fight that could go anywhere. Both fighters are well rounded and not afraid to stand or grapple from top or bottom. Standing is split really. Miller has the one punch knockout ability while Diaz has better hands and throws more volume. On the ground submissions are really a wash as both have a knack for slick subs and positioning to attain them. Overall grappling is very close but I give a slight edge to Miller due to his takedowns being more efficient to date. I see this fight playing out with a little bit of everything. Expect some pure standing exchanges, clinch work, takedowns, passes and submission attempts on the ground. Both fighters are notoriously hard to finish, and the only way I see it happening, believe it or not, is by submission. They both have such tremendous offensive submissions that if one of them locks something in they may do so too quickly and force the stoppage. I don't see this fight being finished, and I don't think Diaz will do what he did to Cerrone here. I think Miller's takedowns and top game will be enough to get the decision.
Prediction: Jim Miller by Decision
Josh Koscheck vs Johny Hendricks
This is a very interesting matchup between two elite level wrestlers with amazing credentials. Some are calling Johny Hendricks the future champion of the welterweight division, there was a time when Josh Koscheck had similar potential. Striking is split into overall technique and power. Overall technique I'm giving to Hendricks because of his crisp combos and overall hands that are improving every time we see him. Power is a wash, but if I had to give an edge to someone I'd give it to Josh. Though I don't think anyone Josh ever knocked out quite rivals what Hendricks was able to do to Jon Fitch when they fought late last year. Overall grappling and wrestling are both a wash as far as I can tell, Josh may have the better submissions and positioning ability on the ground but which of these two is going to be able to score takedowns is anyone's guess. I can see this fight playing out alot like the Mike Pierce fights for both these guys. Plenty of clinching and just an overall ugly looking fight without all the fluff. While Josh is dangerous if he can connect with a punch, I just think Hendricks is going to have the footwork and combinations to keep him guessing.
Prediction: Johny Hendricks by Decision
Rousimar Palhares vs Alan Belcher
I'm not going to mince words on this one. I don't feel Belcher really has an out. Rousimar Palhares is just all wrong for Belcher. Palhares' mass, power, submissions, and willingness to just wade forward to get a hold of someone make this fight very difficult for Alan. Striking technique I'm giving to Belcher for obvious reasons as Palhares' striking isn't exactly refined as it is ill intended. Striking power on the other hand I'm giving to Palhares, however it is worth mentioning that Rousimar has been rocked badly, dropped, and knocked out before, and some of the time by lesser strikers than Belcher. Grappling I'm giving to Palhares both in overall technique and submissions. One area Belcher will have an edge in is cardio, if this fight goes all three rounds we may see Palhares tire out. I hope Alan has done a ton of footwork drills for this fight because staying away is going to be about his only path to victory other than a flash knockout. He needs to avoid the rush and brutal striking power while landing good shots. Hopefully he can avoid getting dragged to the ground as well, or at the very least do some pre-emptive tapping before Palhares can rip one of his knee's apart.
Prediction: Rousimar Palhares by Submission
Pat Barry vs Lavar Johnson
After his quick and thorough destruction of Joey Beltran, Lavar Johnson's next opponent will be the ever exciting Pat Barry. Barry is a logical next step for Johnson, but it's not without it's dangers. Johnson has never fought a striker quite like Barry, though few heavyweights have unless they've actually fought Barry himself. With a compact frame and brutal leg kicks Pat Barry brings to the table an exciting fight most every time he comes out. Barry's problem thusfar has been his lack of grappling knowledge. It cost him in virtually all his professional MMA losses to date. However I don't think it will become a huge factor here with Johnson. Lavar loves to stand and bang, and with his power and reach he could be a dangerous fighter. Overall I'd give Barry the technical striking advantage, and striking power to Johnson, however I will note that this is the heavyweight division and most anyone packs power behind their punches. Grappling I'll split into the clinch and guard. Both fighters leave a little something to be desired on the ground so I'm going to consider the guard a wash, though if it does go to the ground whoever is on top has the edge somewhat. Clinching I'm going to give to Johnson given his height and how he performed with Beltran(which is kind of unfair but I'm still going with it). Another thing worth noting is that Johnson's cardio has a tendency to fade after a round and a half or so. If Barry can push him into deep waters I see no reason Pat can't take this fight. I see this fight going one of two ways. Either Barry sticks and moves, works the legs, and waits for an opening or until Johnson tires to unload on him for a stoppage win, or Pat gets caught early by Johnson's reach and gets knocked out inside of a round. I'm going to go with Barry in this one.
Prediction: Pat Barry by (T)KO