2012 promises to be a monumental year for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. For the first time since 2005, the world’s MMA leader will no longer be associated with  Spike TV. Instead, a historic deal with Fox — and its affiliates — means the Zuffa based promotion will now have a home on network television. Headlining the UFC’s first ever card on the FX network is a lightweight scrap between heavy hitter Melvin Guillard and the always game Jim Miller. Just a few months ago, this bout would have served as a sure-fire title eliminator. Unfortunately, respective hiccups against Joe Lauzon and Ben Henderson have relegated the talented duo into mere afterthoughts in the division. This however, is nothing that can’t be rectified with an impressive showing in the evening’s main event, as both fighters bid to battle their way back into title contention.

Preliminary Predictions:

* Nick Denis to defeat Joseph Sandoval by Decision
* Pat Schilling to defeat Daniel Pineda by Submission in Round 1
* Fabricio Camoes to defeat Tommy Hayden by Decision
* Charlie Brennenman to defeat Daniel Roberts by Decision
* Kamal Shalorus to defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov by Decision
* Jorge Rivera to defeat Eric Schafer by TKO in Round 2

Main Card Predictions:

* Pat Barry to defeat Christian Morecraft by TKO in Round 1
* Mike Easton to defeat Jared Papazian by Decision
* Duane Ludwig to defeat Josh Neer by Decision

Lightweight Fight: Melvin Guillard vs. Jim Miller

Before Guillard’s overconfidence got the better of him against Lauzon, he was riding the most impressive winning streak of his career. Having moved to Greg Jackson‘s camp in Albuquerque, Guillard’s head at last looked to be in the right place, and he had finally started to make the most out of his immense skills and physical gifts. The results came accordingly, and “The Young Assassin” seemed destined for a shot at the lightweight title. Now, Guillard finds himself where he was three years ago. Once again, he changed his training camp — this time opting to train at Rashad Evans’ Blackzillians” in Florida — and once again, he claims this is exactly the kind of switch-up he needed.

Miller on the other hand, suffered a momentum-halting loss at the hands of Ben Henderson, who was able to take him down, shut down his submission attempts, and put on a ground-and-pound clinic. For once in his career, Miller was thoroughly out-grappled. And while he doesn’t quite have to worry about that happening against someone like Guillard, he does need to worry about having his lights turned off in violent fashion.

In addition to being arguably the hardest hitter in the division, Guillard possesses a diverse striking arsenal that is a handful for anyone to deal with. While he doesn’t flick his jab as often as he should, and is sometimes guilty of over-relying on single power shots, Guillard makes up for it with timing and accuracy. As efficient as he is moving forward and throwing heavy leather, he has managed to develop into quite a lethal counter-striker. When initiating the offense, Guillard possesses a beautiful left hook-right uppercut combination that he times to perfection. Likewise, his overhand right counter is just as dangerous, and makes opponents think twice about rushing him. From close-quarters, Guillard can absolutely crush an opponent with knees to the body. In fact, his body work in general is much underrated.

This creates quite  a tricky situation for Miller, who will need to get on the inside in order to work for takedowns or secure the clinch. As long as he’s on the outside, he will have very little success. From that range, Miller will offer little outside of the occasional head or body kick. His most effective work comes from mid-range and on the inside, where he has shown tremendous improvement in the past 18 months. He likes to leap in with a straight left or a lead uppercut, and often uses those punches to transition into takedowns.

Guillard’s takedown defense has improved tremendously, as he has learned to make full use of his athleticism and developed a very solid sprawl. More importantly, Guillard is very difficult to hold down, especially if taken down against the fence, where he can wall-walk and regain his vertical base. However, Miller’s strength isn’t in his ability to get clean takedowns. Instead, he is an expert at using scrambles to get dominant positions. Against Guillard, this could be key, as Melvin has a knack of giving up positions or leaving his neck exposed in scrambles. In particular, when attempting to regain his feet, Guillard is prone to having his back taken. This is especially worrying when factoring in Miller’s masterful ability of suddenly jumping in and latching onto his opponent’s back from out of nowhere.

Moreover, Miller’s wide arsenal of submissions will prove problematic, especially since he isn’t really methodical in his approach, and is more reliant on scrambles to secure these submissions rather than establishing position first. Whether it’s a guillotine, an armbar or a leg lock, Miller can lock in a submission hold instantaneously. The guillotine in particular could be a difference-maker here, as Miller can wrap it up in the blink of an eye, and possesses a tremendous grip to boot. Guillard has never shown good defensive grappling when it comes to actually defending and escaping submission attempts, which doesn’t bode well for him should he find himself in such situations.

Guillard is certainly capable of doing to Miller what he did to Evan Dunham last year. In fact, it is one of two likely outcomes in this bout: Either Melvin clobbers his opponent early, or Miller overcomes a difficult first round to submit Guillard in the second half of the fight. I expect the latter to happen.

Official Prediction: Jim Miller to defeat Melvin Guillard by Submission in Round 2