I wasn't expecting much from UFC on FOX 3 until I actually looked at the main card. There are some badass fights this weekend. (Commercials do suck, but at least they're produced better than the hour's worth of house ads and filler we sit through during a typical pay-per-view broadcast.)
(Note: though I fail to mention Pat Barry here, it's no disrespect and quite the opposite in fact...the guy brings it every fight, win, lose or double-KO. If Barry's on the card, entertainment is a foregone conclusion.)
Here are the three fights I'm most enthused about:
1. Jim Miller vs. Nate Diaz
Until he ran into the neutralizing energy vortex that is Benson Henderson, Jim Miller was on the fast track to a title shot. Miller is a stud at lightweight; he seems stronger than average in the class, has a solid foundation in wrestling, throws bombs, and most importantly fights a smart game. Like most victims of natural disasters, he simply had no way of preparing for Benson Henderson until it was too late.
Nate Diaz is the perfect test to see if Miller is still a champion simply waiting to happen. Diaz is experienced, fearless, creative and simply does not fatigue. He also sports a big reach advantage over Miller which, like his older brother Nick, he can put to great use landing accurate shots in volume. If Jim Miller's going to survive Diaz' "rock-em-sock-em-robot" routine he'll have to start fast and put him away early (or otherwise suplex him for three rounds, a la Rory McDonald.)
2. Josh Koscheck vs. Johny Hendricks
Koscheck and Hendricks have something in common: neither have any interest in wrestling Jon Fitch for three rounds inside the Octagon. Hendricks took the fight anyway, though, which became an instant classic when Hendricks one-punch KO'd the notoriously durable Fitch in just under 12 seconds. Though Hendricks' historic win brought him many new fans overnight, his MMA career is still young and there's no question he still feels he has a lot to prove.
Meanwhile, Fitch's close friend and former training partner Koscheck has proven nearly unbeatable, acting almost as a proverbial filter between the UFC's potential and bona fide welterweight contenders. Outside of current champ Georges St. Pierre, no fighter seems able to match Koscheck's wrestling ability, a fact which seems to have given him the confidence to assume his role of the UFC's token headhunter. While the resilient Mike Pierce gave him fits in their split decision slug-fest back in February, Koscheck's veteran composure and superior wrestling secured him the victory. For Johny Hendricks to get the upset victory, he'll have overcome a considerable experience gap while also contending with (arguably) the most aggressive striker he has faced to date in Josh Koscheck.
3. Alan Belcher vs. Rousimar Palhares
Of the possible guest stars currently being considered for future episodes of "The Anderson Silva Show," Alan Belcher is probably the most intriguing. A promising middleweight whose career was nearly ended by eye surgery, Belcher is an exciting, dynamic and incredibly well-rounded whose UFC highlight reel includes dumping Patrick Cote upside his head in a picture-perfect pile driver.
If Belcher normally throws a lot of leg kicks, we shouldn't be surprised if he alters his game plan on Saturday night when he faces the infamous leg-mangler known as Rousimar Palhares. Short, stock and powerful, Rousimar has become known for his unique mastery of offensive Brazilian jiu-jitsu, having won 4 of his last 5 victories by way of leg lock. So effective are Palhares' submissions that Belcher will undoubtedly have to account for it or risk being ensnared in the Brazilian's iron grip.
Historically, I've often found that cards and match-ups which look only mildly entertaining on paper usually play out that way. Conversely, cards which look like they'll be exciting nearly always deliver. I don't know why that is, or what it means. (Maybe the UFC matchmakers just know what they're doing.)
Anyway, be sure tune in Saturday night. These look like good fights, and I'll be surprised if I'm wrong.