Some things take a little time to settle in. For Jim Miller, that thing was his August 2011 loss to Benson Henderson. It was the New Jersey standout’s first defeat in over two years, snapping a seven fight winning streak, but at first, he dealt with it with little difficulty.
“It was like okay, I felt like I pretty much gave every ounce of energy that I had,” said Miller, who later discovered out that he had fought while less than a hundred percent thanks to a kidney infection that he didn’t know he had. “And then as it settled in a little bit more, then I got a little more frustrated with myself and I thought that I should have done things differently, I should have fought smarter, and it bugged me. It still bugs me. It’s not so much the losing; it’s the not performing to my best. It’s not adapting to the way the fight’s going and not doing the smartest things or the best things while I’m in there. That really bugged me. I’m pissed when I win sometimes because I still don’t have that good of a fight, but still come away with the win, and it’s still just unsatisfying.”
Five months after the fight, you can hear it in his voice that if there’s one fight he wants back, it’s the one he lost to Henderson.
“It will always eat at me,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m bitter and stubborn.”
Of course, there’s no shame in losing to the former WEC champion, who challenges for the UFC lightweight title held by Frankie Edgar in February. But as far as Miller is concerned, when he started feeling less than his normal self on fight night, he should have adjusted his plan of attack. But he didn’t. And though he had his moments in the fast-paced three rounder, he just couldn’t put Henderson away.
“I didn’t adapt,” he said. “I knew that he was gonna be tougher to put away, but I knew if I had the better technique, I’d be able to put him in danger. But something was wrong going in there, and I knew it in my warm-ups, and stepping into the Octagon I could just feel that I didn’t have the energy to fight the way that I normally fought. But I did. I kept attacking, and there were times with a couple of those subs where I’m confident any other night that I finish him. But it was just too late and I didn’t have enough energy. In hindsight, I probably should have fought a little bit more conservatively and worked more for dominant position and then used my technique to put him into trouble, instead of just attack, attack, attack the whole fight, and for the first time in my career actually feeling like I was gassed out.”
At any other point in his career, Miller probably would have shown up at UFC matchmaker Joe Silva’s door and asked to be put back into action as soon as possible. But instead, Miller has been on the sidelines since then, first to heal, next to welcome a son into the family, and then to wait for a big fight that his success in the UFC has earned him. He gets that big fight Friday night in Nashville, when he headlines the UFC’s first FX event against Melvin Guillard. But that’s not to say he wasn’t a little antsy waiting for the opportunity to redeem himself in the Octagon.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You want to go in and reconcile yourself and avenge a loss and stuff like that and get back to winning ways, but sometimes there are more important things to do. When my son was born, my daughter was only 15 months old, so it’s not like they’re that far apart and she’s a little more independent. It’ll be great when they’re older and they’re really close, but when they’re this small, it’s a lot of work.”
Miller laughs, knowing that it’s work that will always beat taking a punch to the face, but he doesn’t seem to mind that part of his day job either. In fact, when you’re talking about the wild card in his bout with “The Young Assassin,” it may be that for all of Guillard’s power, there hasn’t been much mention of Miller’s cast-iron chin. And when asked if that chin has ever been dented in a fight, he can only come up with one example from his past.
“When I fought Frankie (Edgar), he knocked me down,” said Miller of the 2006 bout the two had back in Atlantic City, won by the future lightweight champ via decision. “He hit me right on the button and sat me on my butt. I hopped right back up and shot in for a double leg, but that’s the only time I’ve ever been knocked off my feet. I’ve been lucky enough to get a hard head like my father. (Laughs) I don’t want to get hit by him (Guillard) though, that’s for sure.”
But if he does, and he shakes it off like he’s shaken off everything else he’s been hit with over the last six years, it could be the catalyst to frustrate Guillard, put some doubt in his head, and leave the door open for Miller to go to work. Hey, it’s a tough way to make a point, but Miller’s willing to do what it takes to get the win.
“I’m not afraid of getting knocked out, I’m not afraid of getting hit,” he said, “But I’d rather be known as good than being known as being tough. Anybody that says ‘aw, I like getting hit,’ or any of that stuff, I gotta say ‘come on, really?’ Nobody wants to get hit. But there are some guys that just don’t let it bother them. I try not to let it bother me. It’s part of the game. You’re going to get hit. I’ve only been in one or two fights that have gone past the first round where I haven’t gotten a black eye. It happens. You’re gonna make contact. But you just don’t worry about it. Getting punched in the face really doesn’t hurt that bad. There are things that hurt a lot worse than getting popped in the nose.”
Like losing. And Miller doesn’t want to go down that road again. On the bright side, after each of his previous two defeats, he went on to put together winning streaks of eight and seven fights, respectively. Guillard won’t be a willing participant in Miller’s plan though, and the New Jersey native knows it.
“I see a tough fight,” he said. “He (Guillard) has proven that he’s a very dangerous guy. He’s got tons of power on his feet, he’s very athletic, but he also has shown those little weaknesses, and it’s my job when we step in there to try and exploit those weaknesses and create the opportunities that I can and capitalize on them. But he’s an X-Factor; he can beat anybody in the division on any given night. It’s just whether he gets off first and controls that momentum, or somebody makes him a little bit flustered, and that’s what I try to do, and that’s my goal on the 20th – to put the pressure on him and make him make that mistake.”
Then, if only for a minute or two, Miller can forget the Henderson fight and move on. After that, it’s back to collecting names on the way back to the title picture.
“I want to continue what I had going before August of last year,” he said. “That wasn’t an accurate demonstration of my abilities, and I wasn’t the fighter that always stepped into the Octagon before that. So I’ll continue to get better and prove it.”
Miller Eager to Get That Winning Feeling Back
"He’s got tons of power on his feet, he’s very athletic, but he also has shown those little weaknesses, and it’s my job when we step in there to try and exploit those weaknesses." - Jim Miller