In another situation, Jim Miller
and Melvin Guillard
could sit down with plenty to talk about. Both UFC
lightweights were close to fighting for UFC gold, only to see the possibility slip away when their long win streaks were snapped. Instead of commiserating over their lost opportunities, the duo will stand across from each other and try to rebound back into the win column while worsening the other's pain.
The success of the fighters is based on very differing skill sets. While Guillard favors open space as a way to utilize his quick and powerful strikes, Miller prefers to close distance, fight in tight quarters and drag the fight to the mat where he uses an attacking ground game.
In the past, the latter type of approach has been Guillard's kryptonite. An immensely gifted fighter, Guillard has struggled with opponents who refuse to be bullied or scared off by his striking firepower. And he's had nightmares on the ground, with all five of his Octagon losses coming via submission.
That makes Miller (20-3) a logistical problem for him to navigate. In 23 professional fights, Miller has never been knocked out, and even against heavy-handed sluggers like Duane Ludwig
and Kamal Shalorus
, he hasn't been knocked down or even rocked.
Because of Miller's chin as well as his ground prowess (11 of his 20 wins have come via tapout), oddsmakers have made him a comfortable favorite in the bout.
Guillard though, may come with some new tricks up his sleeve. After having worked with the Team Greg Jackson camp in Albuquerque, N.M., for most of his recent fights, he moved his training to Florida to prepare with the fast-growing Blackzilians squad.
There he reportedly worked hard on his ground game with jiu-jitsu coach Sergio "Babu" Gasparelli, a black belt who has tutored middleweight champ Anderson Silva
and light-heavyweight contender Rashad Evans
, among others.
Whether that will be enough to get past Miller remains to be seen. Guillard, after all, had only about three months since his most recent fight, the loss to Lauzon. That's not a lot of time to make meaningful adjustments, particularly in an art so nuanced as the submission game.
Miller will no doubt try to test him there. He averages about 3.1 submission tries per 15 minutes, a number that has him just outside the top 10 in UFC history, according to FIghtMetric
The difficulty for Miller may come in getting the fight to the ground. Historically, he is successful on only 47 percent of his takedown tries, but Miller is such a grinder that he often finds a way to drag his opponent to the mat, and occasionally, knock him down there.
While Miller is best known for his submission game, he has underrated striking. The two hardest-hitters he's faced so far in his career are arguably Duane "Bang" Ludwig and Kamal Shalorus, and Miller knocked both of them down, directly leading to finishes. With Shalorus, he finished with ground strikes, while he locked in an armbar against Ludwig.
So despite 34 percent striking accuracy, Miller remains a dangerous striker. He also has on his side the built-in advantage of being a southpaw. Guillard has faced a few of them during his UFC run and has had uneven performances, stopping Evan Dunham
with strikes while losing to Nate Diaz
by submission in a pair of examples.
Guillard (29-9-2, 1 no contest) will likely be slowed down by the possibility of Miller's shot. Even though he has strong wrestling -- he stops 65 percent of takedown tries and often pops up quickly off the ground -- he's faced enough trouble there that he can't feel too confident when he goes to the ground with a black belt.
Guillard himself connects at only a 40 percent rate, but that figure is a bit misleading, as many of his opponents stand at a distance where it's nearly impossible to be hit. Miller won't do that. He manages range well, and likely will try to get inside and limit Guillard's space. Miller has never shown a fear of engaging a striker, but he goes about it with a plan. Because Guillard is more of an improvisational fighter, this may favor Miller.
Guillard will have his moments in this fight if he can keep Miller on the outside of his strikes. But Miller is a bulldog, and he won't be denied for long. Either he's going to get clipped on the way inside, or he'll find his way to Guillard and turn it into his kind of fight. While Miller looked uncharacteristically outclassed in his last bout, he recently admitted to MMAFighting.com
that he was battling a kidney infection and going through a bout of mononucleosis at the time.
Miller has never been rocked in his UFC career, so the odds and evidence suggest that he won't fall into that kind of trouble against Guillard, either. And what does that leave us? A fight where he's going to continue coming forward and trying to impose his plan. Over the years, we've seen Guillard panic in situations where he's pressured, and Miller is a high-pressure fighter who hunts openings. He'll find a way to get the fight to the ground and close it out with a second-round submission.