For years, Nate Diaz operated in the considerable shadow of his older brother. Now, he is casting one of his own.
Diaz submitted the eminently durable Jim Miller with a second-round guillotine choke in the UFC on Fox 3 main event on Saturday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The 27-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt battered Miller -- who had never before been finished -- with punches before delivering the submission 4:09 into round two.
Since returning to the lightweight division following a brief flirtation with 170 pounds, Diaz has recorded three consecutive one-sided wins: two submissions and a unanimous decision over Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts mainstay Donald Cerrone. In dispatching Miller, he appears to have removed the lone remaining obstacle standing between him and a shot at the UFC lightweight championship.
Current titleholder Benson Henderson will toe the line against Frankie Edgar in a rematch of their memorable UFC 144 bout later this summer. Diaz almost certainly awaits the winner. Less than a month after his 27th birthday, the Californian has blossomed into true mixed martial arts royalty.
In wake of UFC on Fox 3 “Diaz vs. Miller,” here are half a dozen other matchups we want to see made:
Jim Miller vs. Benson Henderson-Frankie Edgar loser: Miller figures to lose a little ground in the lightweight division, but he remains very much a part of a group of elite 155-pounders plying their respective trades under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner. Miller turns 29 in August and still has plenty left in the tank. He was not the first fighter to have issues dealing with Diaz’s length, output and diverse skills, and no one expects him to be the last. Miller will undoubtedly want to get back on the proverbial horse against another top-shelf opponent. Give him a rematch he desires against either Henderson or Edgar, both of whom beat him on points.
Johny Hendricks vs. Rory MacDonald: Plenty will pine for Hendricks to face another Top 5 welterweight in the aftermath of his split decision victory over Josh Koscheck, but let us, for argument’s sake, think outside the box. No one in the welterweight division has been more impressive of late than MacDonald. The 22-year-old Canadian prospect gutted Che Mills at UFC 145 in Atlanta and has already proven himself worthy in defeat against current interim champion Carlos Condit. MacDonald has not met anyone with the wrestling credentials of Hendricks, a four-time NCAA All-American and two-time national champion at Oklahoma State University. Hendricks has not tested himself against anyone with the all-around firepower of MacDonald. A matchup could benefit both men, even though Hendricks currently resides a few notches higher on the 170-pound totem pole.
Josh Koscheck vs. Jake Ellenberger-Martin Kampmann loser: Like Miller, Koscheck took a step back in New Jersey. Unlike Miller, time does not appear to be on his side. At 34 and 21 fights into his UFC tenure, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 alum could soon find himself in an unenviable position: able to hang with younger, elite welterweights but unable to beat them. Koscheck planted his right hand on Hendricks with regularity but ate far more left hooks in return. He left the cage with a swollen right eye and a tough-to-swallow split decision loss on his resume. Ellenberger and Kampmann will lock horns at “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale in June. The loser would supply “Kos” with a suitable dance partner.
Alan Belcher vs. Brian Stann-Hector Lombard winner: No one did more to raise his profile at UFC on Fox 3 than Belcher, as he not only went to the ground with Brazilian leg lock specialist Rousimar Palhares but thrived there. Belcher stopped his fellow middleweight contender on a series of brutal ground strikes in the first round and then turned his attention towards UFC champion Anderson Silva, albeit without naming names.
The Roufusport export has not yet done enough to warrant consideration for a bout of such magnitude but he has done enough to deserve a crack at one of the division’s other big fish. Brian Stann will welcome former Bellator Fighting Championships titleholder Hector Lombard to the UFC in August. Pair the winner with the man they call “The Talent.”
Lavar Johnson vs. Mark Hunt-Stefan Struve winner: What Johnson lacks in well-rounded skills -- he did, after all, find himself mounted and nearly submitted by Pat Barry -- he often makes up for with otherworldly punching power. One of the heavyweight division’s heaviest hitters, he chopped down Barry with a series of vicious right uppercuts and left hooks, improving to 2-0 since his crossover from Strikeforce. Johnson will likely never move into the division’s upper tier, but, when matched correctly, he can make for must-see TV. The suddenly resurgent Hunt will throw leather with the 6-foot-11 Struve at UFC 146 later this month. Whoever emerges seems tailor-made for a matchup with Johnson.
John Dodson vs. Louis Gaudinot: Dodson was not his normal dynamic self in capturing a unanimous decision from Tim Elliott, perhaps owing to a hand injury suffered early in their fight. Nevertheless, he has clearly established himself as one of the world’s top flyweights and could soon find himself in position to challenge for promotional gold at 125 pounds. For now, he must wait for the flyweight tournament drama to play out between Ian McCall, Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. Gaudinot, Dodson’s castmate on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” choked John Lineker unconscious in his return to 125 pounds. Depending on the severity of the Dodson injury, the UFC could elect to pit the two men against one another in a title eliminator later this year.