Overlooked Miller ready for Henderson, nears title shot

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Dan Hardy hasn't won a fight since 2009, losing his last three, one by ferocious knockout. Chris Lytle is coming off a loss, too, one that came against a relatively unknown late replacement.

These are the main event fighters for Sunday's UFC Live 5 (9 p.m. ET, Versus) in Milwaukee.

A bit lower on the marquee is a guy who'll be riding a seven-fight win streak, having finished opponents in more than half of those bouts. Overall, he's won all but two of his 22 career fights, losing only to the lightweight champion of the world and the unbeaten fighter poised to challenge for the belt this fall.

Think Jim Miller is being overlooked here?

It's not the first time for Miller, who takes on former WEC champ Ben Henderson in what's billed as a "co-main event" but seems more like playing second fiddle. Last December he handed the fast-rising Charles Oliveira the first loss of his career, catching the ballyhooed Brazilian in a kneebar within two minutes. The impressive victory pushed Miller's record to 19-2, but within a week all the attention was focused to a different lightweight, Anthony Pettis. He was proclaimed the next challenger to UFC champion Frankie Edgar after defeating then-WEC champ Henderson on the strength of his highlight-reel "Showtime kick" in the promotion's final title bout before being absorbed into the big show.

Miller didn't brood, just took another fight -- against another unbeaten guy. And finished him. The TKO of Kamal Shalorus in March at UFC 128 in Newark, just a half-hour from the New Jersey gym where Miller trains, brought some more attention. But not a title shot.

Not yet.

Miller first must beat Henderson, who saw a 10-fight winning streak end when Pettis got the decision in December. Ben bounced back big-time in April with a decision win of his own over the formidable Mark Bocek, who is well-rounded enough to own black belts in both karate and jiu-jitsu. Henderson has not been assured of a title shot with a win Sunday, but Miller has. The announcement came from UFC president Dana White back in June, on the night when Pettis -- who never did get his promised shot at the belt because Edgar and Gray Maynard fought to a draw in January, necessitating a much-delayed rematch -- lost a stay-busy fight to Clay Guida. Oh, what a tangled web.

Miller isn't counting his chickens. "I've been in the business, and you never know what is going to happen," he said during a conference call with MMA media last week. "If Guida had finished Anthony, he might have been getting the shot. Depending on how [the Henderson] fight goes, if I win, how the win goes ... It all depends if they bring what's his face, [Gilbert] Melendez, over from Strikeforce. So much could happen. It's such a fluid division, and there are quite a few guys that have set themselves up. So I try not to just focus on any of that and just focus on the fight at hand."

The only indication -- at least publicly -- that Miller has felt disrespected during his long wait for a title shot came in December, in an interview following his win over Oliveira. Asked by MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani what fight he wanted next, Miller said, "If they want to sit me and give me the next shot after the WEC guy gets beat by the winner of Gray and Frankie, I'll do that." This was a couple of weeks before the Henderson-Pettis bout, so as champ at that point, Ben was still "the WEC guy" whom Miller was looking past to set his sights on the UFC belt. Now Jim gets a chance to prove that, as he said of the WEC's best later in the same interview, the UFC "is the big leagues, a bigger, different breed of fighter than they've been fighting."

That's about as brash as Jim Miller gets. He doesn't prance like Ric Flair, doesn't boast like Floyd Mayweather. He doesn't wear his hair in a red-dyed Mohawk. He looks like a guy you might run into at the pool hall, although in reality you're more likely to see him at the gym. Sweaty. He's a fighter.

Of course, the top-billed Hardy and Lytle are fighters, too. Hardy is a crowd favorite for his forward-moving, stand-and-bang style. And Lytle is a UFC bonus baby, having earned an extra check for Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night or Submission of the Night in eight of his 12 bouts since rejoining the promotion during Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter. The main event Sunday night may not have championship implications, but it will entertain.

"They didn't pick me and Dan to be there to put on a boring fight," Lytle said during the conference call. "So if you think I'm going to try to sit there and get him on the ground and hold him down for 15 minutes and then dry hump him, that's not going to happen."

It's not going to happen in the co-main event, either, and that fight does have implications at the top of a weight class. Miller and Henderson are wrestlers by pedigree, but both are aggressors who use their ground skills to attack, not simply to neutralize. And for Miller in particular, a lightweight title shot is on the line, so he's going to go for it. Even if -- as has happened when he's been on this road before -- there are unexpected twists and turns.

"I want the tough road. I want to fight all the best guys," said Miller. "And if I feel like I can be the UFC champ, then whoever they're going to stick in my way on the way up to that point, I should be able to beat. So I'll just keep fighting. If I can pull out a win on the 14th, then if they tell me they're going to throw me in there with somebody else, so be it."