It’s a factoid Jim Miller never thought would be associated with his fighting career. On Saturday night, when he steps into the Octagon in Rio Rancho to face Scott Holtzman, it will be the third decade in which he’s competed since making his pro debut in 2005. Not thirty years of fighting, which would make Miller six when he debuted, but fights in each of the last two decades as well as the current one.
That’s quite a run.
“I know I’ve been around for a while,” he said. “There’s a lot that’s happened, a lot that’s going on and it’s cool to see the changes that have happened. Some of it good, some of it bad, but a lot has changed since I’ve started fighting in the beginning, and a lot has changed since I started fighting in the UFC.”
It wasn’t exactly what he was expecting when he strapped on the gloves to fight Eddie Fyvie in Atlantic City nearly fifteen years ago.
“Hell no,” laughs Miller, 36 years old with a two-fight winning streak heading into his 34th Octagon appearance, one that will once again tie him with Donald Cerrone for most fights in UFC history. The two-fight winning streak is a big thing, especially considering that 36 years old is an age when many question how long a fighter will continue to compete. Miller has had that conversation with himself and his inner circle for the last couple years now, especially after battling with Lyme disease since 2013. And he’s not afraid to approach that conversation now, despite showing some of his best form in 2019 finishes of Jason Gonzalez and Clay Guida.
“There was a time when I was contemplating retirement in 2016, but even before that, I was like, ‘Okay, what happens if I absolutely destroy my knee or get a bad concussion and I can’t fight anymore?’” he said. “With four kids, what am I gonna do next? So I’ve been thinking about it because it’s the right thing to be doing, and to be voicing it and bringing it up in conversation with people close to me because that’s how the ball gets rolling and that’s how I feel like things are going to develop.”
“I’m sure as s**t not going to be fighting in 15 years.”
With Miller, you never know. Hey, Randy Couture (47) and Bernard Hopkins (51) made some pretty impressive runs after 40 years old. And don’t think Miller hasn’t thought about the perfect way to go out.
“This will be 34, pretty close to 40,” he said of the fight with Holtzman. “UFC 300 is not that far away. (Laughs) Might as well go 100, 200, 300. That would be the top. If I make it to UFC 300, I’m going to demand to be on that card and that will be the last one.”
That would be quite and exit for the man who competed on the UFC 100 (WUD3 Mac Danzig) and UFC 200 (TKO1 Takanori Gomi) cards, in addition to facing the best of the best at 155 pounds in the Octagon since 2008. That’s a run that includes 20 wins, 11 finishes, 10 post-fight bonuses, and an endless amount of respect from fans, media and his peers. He’s earned a chance to sit back, reflect and think about the next chapter. And just because he is, that doesn’t mean he’s lost sight of the present.
“It’s not hard to think about it,” Miller explains. “I notice that some of the other fighters are afraid to talk about it because they don’t want to seem like they’re doubting themselves. It’s not doubt, it’s not like I feel that I can’t compete; I know that I can compete. I lost a few years (to the Lyme disease battle) and it’s just one of those things. I can’t say that it’s unfair because life’s not fair, but I dealt with stuff I wish that I hadn’t had dealt with. So I’m confident of my abilities, I’m confident in what I’m capable of inside the Octagon. It’s okay. It’s okay to think about it and verbalize it and be able to look ahead and plan ahead. It’s responsible. If you’re providing for your children with this sport as your main means of income, the responsible thing to do is to plan for what happens next because this sport is so unforgiving that it can end super abruptly.”
When it does, the Sparta, New Jersey native is a safe bet to be one of those pro athletes who land on their feet in retirement. One look at his Instagram page and you’ll see that despite the low-key demeanor he displays on fight week, anyone who can belt out a killer “Careless Whisper” on Karaoke night while also captivating with stories from everyday life in and around Casa Miller has a future in some form of television or an entertainment-related field.
“I just love sharing stuff with people,” he said. “Like food and booze. (Laughs) There’s just something about it. I put in the effort and I want to make it as good as I can and I want to share it and people enjoy it and we always have a good time.”
Finding that balance of fun, family, and work has been the key to his success, so even though he’s preparing for a tough kickoff to 2020 against Holtzman, he’s taken care of business as his family moves to a new place in Jersey.
“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks, that’s for sure,” he said, adding that the secret to making it all work is a simple one.
“I try to have a sense of humor about it. It’s been crazy, but it’s one of those things.”
But hey, we’re getting sidetracked here. Fights in three decades, Miller. What’s the highlight?
The 2006 Reality Fighting title bout with future UFC champ Frankie Edgar?
The Submission of the Night over David Baron in his Octagon debut or the finish of Charles Oliveira?
What about the 2012 war with Joe Lauzon or his stirring knockout of Gomi that snapped a 1-4 stretch?
None of the above.
“It’s really just fighting in front of my kids,” said Miller of his April 2019 win over Jason Gonzalez in Sunrise, Florida. “It worked out way better than I could have planned. The universe aligned and everything worked out where I could bring four kids – 9, 8, 6 and 4 at the time – to a UFC fight and then get to see them all together. The fight worked out almost perfectly.”
Almost perfectly? Most would say a Performance of the Night submission that took two minutes and 12 seconds is about as perfect as you can get.
“It’s one of those bittersweet things,” Miller laughs, then explains. “The fight went really fast and I don’t think they had the opportunity to really drink it in. We get done, and my older son’s like, ‘Hey dad, did you win?’ (Laughs) It was so fast. There was no struggle to overcome, no build-up, it wasn’t like a good story.”
No, it wasn’t a good story. To everyone who watched it, it was the perfect story, a reminder that a story – and a career – doesn’t have to have everything pristine to be great. The struggle is part of the beauty of it. Jim Miller’s kids will understand that when they get older, and he’s just glad he’s been giving them plenty of life lessons in and out of the Octagon.
“I’m excited that I’ve been able to share that with my kids and my niece and nephew,” he said. “There have been some awesome fights. Even the ones that haven’t gone my way, I had some fights with some of these guys that I’m a fan of and I’ve learned a lot from them, and they’ve been experiences that have left a mark on me, but that two-minute fight, being able to share it, that was the best so far.”
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