EAST RUTHERFORD — Nate Diaz continued his dominant return to the UFC lightweight division and defeated Jim Miller by submission in the second round Saturday night to win the promotion’s third major network card on Fox.
Diaz (16-7) stopped Miller (21-4) with a guillotine choke at 4:09 of the second round and earned a shot at the lightweight crown later this year. Diaz dominated the short time they were in the octagon, using his range to land big strikes and force Miller to tap at the Izod Center.
Miller’s face was already bloodied by the time the New Jersey crowd started a “Let’s go Miller!” chant to rally the hometown fighter. The season five winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” taunted Miller moments before he rolled him over and locked in his submission hold to end main event of the four-bout primetime card held by the world’s top MMA circuit.
Diaz returned to the lightweight division after a mixed run at 170 pounds. He could take another fight or wait out a scheduled title defense later this year by champion Benson Henderson.
In a tight battle former NCAA champions, Johny Hendricks (13-1) likely became the No. 1 contender for the welterweight championship with a split-decision victory over Josh Koscheck.
“If the title shot comes, it comes,” Hendricks said. “If not, I’ll stand in here with anyone they put in front of me.”
Hendricks won 29-28 on two cards and Koscheck took the other 29-28 in the three-round bout.
Koscheck left the octagon with a battered and swollen right side of his face. He put his head down and shook it “no” as he trudged back to the locker room.
UFC fan and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino tweeted, “Disagree on that decision.”
He didn’t have a say. The judges did and that’s why Hendricks was the fighter jumping around the cage in celebration after several tense minutes waiting for a decision.
Hendricks connected with a pair of stiff leg shots and a knee to the face in the third to give him an edge. But Koscheck (17-6) covered Hendricks in the final minute and seemed content to stay there and in control. It just wasn’t enough.
“That’s one tough dude, man. I hit him with everything I got and I did everything I could,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks was two-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American for Oklahoma State. Koscheck also was a four-time All-American at Edinboro University and a 2001 NCAA champ.
UFC kicked off the Fox show with a heavyweight bout that featured some of the stiffest shots of the night.
Lavar Johnson (17-5) backed Pat Barry against the cage with a barrage of punishing lefts and rights to the head that left Barry (7-5) slumped on the mat. Johnson, fighting nearly three years after he was shot in the abdomen during a random drive-by, won via TKO in 4:38 of the first round.
“With our styles, I knew it would end like this for one of us,” Johnson said.
For the casual fans attracted by the car-wreck nature of one man pummeling another, the sight of the 6-foot-4 Johnson simply assaulting Barry to start the show had to please UFC and Fox.
Alan Belcher (18-6) initiated the ground game and continued the trend of early finishes when he flattened Rousimar Palhares (14-5) and fired repeated shots at the face to win a TKO decision at 4:18 of the first round.
“I want to be the guy that takes the belt off Anderson Silva because I know I’m the one that can do it,” Belcher said.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was in the crowd at the Izod Center to watch a card held just six miles across the river from New York. New York is one of the few states that has yet to legalize MMA.
After showcasing UFC on Fox with two big bouts that featured Junior Dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez and Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis, none of the fighters on Saturdays’ card were huge names known to a wide network audience.