The Province

Diaz-miller bout a stepping stone

Winner expected to be next title challenger in the 155-pound division


Long before Nickelback came along and ruined a great song with a crappy cover, Elton John told us “Saturday night’s all right for fighting,” and this Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., the UFC returns to Fox television intent on proving just that.

For their third show on network television, the biggest brand in mixed martial arts is bringing a main card featuring four potentiall­y explosive pairings into the octagon and onto your TV for the price of basic cable. Consisting of a quality mix of recognizab­le names, compelling fights and combustibl­e pairings, Saturday’s event from the Izod Center is poised to deliver a great deal of excitement.

In the main event, lightweigh­ts Nathan Diaz (15-7) and Jim Miller (213) square off in a bout that is expected to produce the next title challenger in the 155-pound division.

After dropping back-to-back fights at welterweig­ht to start 2011, Diaz returned to the lightweigh­t division last September, and has quickly made his way into contention with dominant wins over Takanori Gomi and Donald Cerrone. While Diaz has worked his way back into contention in the last handful of months, Miller has been a staple in the top of the division for the last two years. Though he dropped a unanimous decision to current champion Benson Henderson back in August, the Whippany, N.J. native bounced back with a first-round submission win over Melvin Guillard in January, pushing his record to 10-2 in the UFC.

Whether the winner ends up fighting for the title in their next appearance or not will remain a question mark for now, but what is unquestion­able is that these two never fail to deliver the kind of exciting contest that hits the mark for both hardcore and casual fans alike.

Following his 12-second knockout of Jon Fitch at UFC 141, welterweig­ht upand-comer Johny Hendricks (12-1) can cement his standing as a contender in the 170-pound division with a win over former title challenger — and Fitch’s longtime friend — Josh Koscheck (175) in the co-main event.

Both men bring impressive wrestling credential­s into the cage, as well as continuall­y-improving striking skills. This will be Koscheck’s first fight since completely severing his ties with the team at American Kickboxing Academy, so it will be interestin­g to see how the change in coaches and training camps impacts his performanc­e, if at all.

Meanwhile, this is a prime opportunit­y for Team Takedown member Hendricks to prove his win over Fitch wasn’t a fluke. With the welterweig­ht division in a state of flux, back-to-back wins over proven veterans will position him near the top of a short list of con- tenders heading into the summer.

Middle weight salan “the talent” belcher (17-6) and Rousimar Palhares (14-3) meet in the second of four fights on Saturday’s main card, with a place in the top 10 awaiting the winner.

Belcher returned from a career-threatenin­g eye injury in September with a firstround stoppage win over Canadian Jason Macdonald, and has won three straight dating back to December 2009. A submission specialist with a fondness for leg locks, Palhares is one of the most underrated fighters on the UFC roster, boasting a 7-2 record in the UFC, his losses coming to former title contenders Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt. Only a quarter of their combined 40 fights have gone to a decision, so you can safely expect to see this one produce a finish on Saturday night.

The same goes for the opening act of the evening, a heavyweigh­t matchup between heavy hitters Pat Barry (7-4) and Lavar Johnson (16-5). In his octagon debut, Johnson knocked out notoriousl­y hard-headed Joey Beltran, and has done the same to 14 of the other 15 men he’s beaten in the cage.

After dropping back-to-back outings to end 2011, Barry rebounded with a firstround knockout win over Christian Morecraft back in December, and should pair with Johnson to start Saturday’s main card off with a bang.

UFC on Fox 3 airs Saturday at 2 p.m. on Sportsnet One (preliminar­y bouts), and Saturday at 8 p.m. on Sportsnet Pacific for the main card.

For complete UFC on Fox 3 coverage and all your MMA news, be sure to check out Keyboard Kimura (theprovinc­ mmabloghtt­p://theprovinc­>), the MMA blog of The Province. Follow E. Spencer Kyte on Twitter

 ?? — GETTY IMAGES ?? UFC lightweigh­ts Nate Diaz, left, and Jim Miller are the main event Saturday, to be carried on Fox.
— GETTY IMAGES UFC lightweigh­ts Nate Diaz, left, and Jim Miller are the main event Saturday, to be carried on Fox.
 ?? E. Spencer Kyte

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