If UFC fight cards were arranged so that the most relevant fight was always the main event, then this fight would definitely be it. Jim Miller is a lightweight fighter on a seven-fight winning streak, and a man who seems slated to be the next challenger to the lightweight title. Ben Henderson isn’t quite as close to a title shot as Miller is, but beating Miller would definitely put him on the short list of contenders. Still, this fight is the co-main event, not the main event of the evening.
I understand why. The idea behind the main event of Dan Hardy and Chris Lytle is that it features two names that many UFC fans recognize, and both are known to stand and bang. UFC fans that take a look at the fight card might well say “Hey look, Dan Hardy and Chris Lytle. That should be a good fight. I think I’ll tune into this one.”
And if there’s something that these fighters need, it’s some good exposure to the UFC audience. I think Jim Miller is probably the best UFC fighter that only the hardcore fans really know about. Some anecdotal evidence: when Miller fought Mark Bocek at UFC 111, I told a friend of mine that I thought Miller was the best fighter that nobody knows about. When Miller fought Charles Oliveira at UFC 124, I asked this friend if he remembered Jim Miller. He said no. I told him that I thought Miller was the best fighter that nobody knows about. When Miller fought Kamal Shalorus at UFC 128, I asked this friend again if he remembered Jim Miller. He said no.
It doesn’t help that Miller hasn’t fought anybody particularly well-known by the fans. Generally speaking, a lot of UFC stars are created by fighting opponents that are already stars. Case in point: Dan Hardy. When Miller’s most famous UFC opponents are probably Gray Maynard, Mac Danzig, Matt Wiman, and Gleison Tibau, there’s not much to work with there. Meanwhile, Ben Henderson has been fighting for most of his relevant career in the WEC. Enough said.
The good news is that not only will these fighters get some exposure in the co-main event of a free Versus show, but the fight is likely to be very exciting. Henderson and Miller have a very similar fighting style. Both guys are primarily grapplers, but both guys are very well-rounded, and possess both wrestling and striking ability. Moreover, both guys know how to transition in a fluid manner among all aspects of their game. And because both guys like to bring the fight to their opponent, there’s very little chance that this ends up being a dull one.
Henderson is particularly known for his ability to escape submissions. In fact, for Henderson’s UFC debut at UFC 129, his opponent, Mark Bocek, went out of his way to claim that fighters weren’t choking Henderson properly. Whether or not that’s true, Bocek threatened multiple times to submit Henderson… and was unable to finish. I’m not going to say that a fighter is impossible to submit, especially when Henderson does actually have a submission loss on his record (early in his career, by anaconda choke of all things). However, I will say that a Jim Miller win by submission would seem to be unlikely.
While Henderson might have a slight advantage on the ground, Miller should have the striking advantage, as his striking defense seems to be fundamentally better than Henderson’s. After all, Henderson was on the wrong side of Anthony Pettis’s “Showtime” kick at WEC 53 in December. Now, I don’t expect Miller to launch kicks off the fence or anything, but I do think that if he decides to keep the fight standing, that he’ll have an advantage.
The other area where Miller enjoys an advantage is in his fight history. Both Miller and Henderson have two career losses, but Miller’s are to Frank Edgar and Gray Maynard. If you’re going to have two losses in the lightweight division, those are the guys you want to have lost to. And while the quality of opposition that Miller and Henderson have fought is similar, Miller has just won more: 20 wins for Miller, compared to 13 for Henderson. Miller has shown a greater ability to beat tough opponents on a consistent basis.
SILVA PREDICTION: JIM MILLER (48.82) OVER BEN HENDERSON (35.83)
I consider Henderson being caught in submission attempts so frequently to be a red flag. While it’s great (and exciting) that Henderson is able to escape those attempts all the time, the fact of the matter is that he has to escape the submission in the first place, meaning that he got caught in the attempt. I don’t recall Jim Miller ever having to fight off submission attempts, although my memory of the UFC 111 Bocek fight is a bit fuzzy. Even then, while both guys have great MMA games, I feel that Miller is just a little bit better in each area than Henderson. In any case, here’s hoping that whoever wins is remembered by the fans for his performance, and will have some real support behind him as he makes his run towards the title.