“Since I’ve been little and wrestling, no matter who I was competing
against, I wanted to pin him. That’s where I get the excitement from –
from that finish. It’s the same in fighting. I don’t get excited about
winning a decision."
Far from a demonstrative sort, Jim Miller finds joy in the little things – his daughter’s smile, a woodworking job well done, etc. But you won’t ever find him showing too much emotion. Well, maybe with the exception of his brother Dan’s win over John Salter at UFC 118 on August 28th.
That night, you saw every range of emotions as Miller watched his older sibling break a three fight losing streak that tested the resolve of everyone in the close-knit family, especially considering that it came in the midst of a personal crisis that saw Dan and his wife dealing with their young son’s illness.
“It’s so much more stressful when he’s fighting,” said Miller of the ordeal of watching Dan fight. “I don’t really have any control. I try to help him as best as I can in the training camp, but once he steps into the Octagon, I’ve got nothing. I can yell for him a little bit, but it never really helps that much. When you’re in a fight, you’ve just got to do what comes to you. Some guys are good at listening, but Dan and I just go out there and fight. So it’s that lack of control (that makes it stressful), and I’m just as invested in his success as I am in mine. And it was a long time coming for the kid. He had three really tough opponents in a row, a lot of tough stuff in the home life that the whole family had to go through, but he had to live it every day, so it was great to have him get back on the good side of the tracks. Getting that win was huge to say the least.”
So when it was over, Jim Miller was happier than he was when he won his most recent fight, a close three round decision over Mark Bocek at UFC 111 in March.
“I should have had that kimura, and that heel hook, and that guillotine,” he admits, almost replaying the fight in his head as he speaks. “I was hesitating.”
“I knew going into that fight that he (Bocek) was going to be a difficult matchup for me, probably one of the toughest stylistically,” said Miller. “And I’m not really pleased with the way the fight went. I think I could have attacked more and done more. I’m never satisfied, even in victory. I’m always breaking things down and trying to improve. I had opportunities to finish the fight, and I messed them up and it almost cost me. I’m pretty hard on myself about that and I’m really trying to work on those things that I felt I screwed up and just come back a better fighter the next time I step into the Octagon.”
Following the bout, Miller had plenty of time to reflect, but it wasn’t idle time as he waited for the call back to action. He and his wife had their first child, a daughter, in June, and he enjoyed civilian life for a while, allowing him to clear his head for a spell.
“It was nice to have some time off around that time (when his daughter was born) and help her out while she recovered from the labor and all that stuff,” he said. “I was also able to get some work done. I built all the nursery furniture from scratch – the crib, changing table, and a bookcase – so it was nice to have some time to do my projects and stuff around here.”
It’s a stark contrast what some picture the life of a professional fighter as. It’s not all gym time, photo shoots, interviews, and more gym time. These are regular folks outside the Octagon, and as such, it’s nice to take the Superman cape off for a while.
“I’ve got a ton of hobbies I do outside the gym and I just keep myself busy with that,” said Miller. “I love fighting and I really enjoy it, but my life doesn’t really revolve around it. I have a family and plenty of other stuff to keep me busy. So when I’m there in the gym, training for a fight, I’m focused then, then I come home, take that hat off, and put on my father hat and get to work around here.”
“There’s still a bit of a misconception about fighters,” he continues. “We’re just normal guys and normal athletes. There’s still that connection between Hollywood movies and what people think it would be cool to be and all that stuff, but we’re just guys who go and train hard and who are fortunate enough to be able to do this for a living and fight at this level and compete at this level. But we’re really just normal guys.”
But eventually, those normal guys have to get back to work, and when the ultra-active Miller (he’s fought seven times in a little under two years as a UFC fighter) returned to the gym to help Dan get ready for the Salter fight while kicking off his own training camp for this Wednesday’s battle in Austin, Texas against Gleison Tibau, it was a little rough at first.
“Once I started turning it up for this fight, I was like ‘man, I shouldn’t have taken all that time off,’” he laughs. “You try to push just like you did before your last fight, and you can’t do it. In a matter of weeks, your conditioning goes down, your strength goes down, and it’s definitely not easy to get back in the gym after a little bit of a layoff.”
Yet like riding a bike, Miller was back in the swing of things soon enough, even taking part in a little dodgeball game in the AMA Fight Club gym in Whippany recently, though that didn’t work out as well for him as fighting does.
“I was in there for a little bit, and then I tried to catch one and it knocked me out,” he smiled. “The balls were too light to try to catch.”
It was a brief moment of levity in what has been an intense camp for his bout with Tibau, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who is one of the biggest 155-pounders in the division and one who also showed off some improved standup prowess when he knocked out Caol Uno in March. It’s a formidable task for Miller, but like a true competitor, that’s just the way he likes it.
“He’s a tough fight for anybody in the lightweight division,” said Miller of Tibau. “I am convinced that he is the biggest 155-pounder in the division, and probably by a pretty good margin. And he does hit hard, he’s improved his technique in the striking, and he is dangerous with his subs, so he’s not an easy fight for anybody. And that’s why I’m so excited. This is a fight I want. I want to be pushed and show myself what I’m capable of. I’m really looking forward to it, and he’s definitely one of the premier guys in the division, so it’s exciting for me.”
And exciting for us, not just because the fight pits a perennial contender in Tibau against Miller, who has won six of seven UFC fights, including four in a row, but because when the bell rings, the 27-year old New Jersey native is going to be bringing the heat and looking to end the fight. That kind of mindset has gained him a legion of fans at a time when some are being criticized for settling for decisions. Jim Miller isn’t settling for anything but a finish.
“It’s really just an attitude thing,” he said. “Since I’ve been little and wrestling, no matter who I was competing against, I wanted to pin him. That’s where I get the excitement from – from that finish. It’s the same in fighting. I don’t get excited about winning a decision. You’re not gonna see me smile or jump around and yell after the fight goes to the judges. It doesn’t excite me. I did it after my first fight, and every other fight after that, I’m gunning for that submission, and I can tell you that in all the fights that I didn’t finish my opponent or didn’t sub my opponent out, where I went wrong, what I missed, or what I should have done instead of doing what I did. You really can’t blame them (other fighters) because they’re winning by exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses. They’re controlling them. So if I’m gonna fight someone that I know is just gonna try to control me, my job is to not let them. That’s what I’m going in there for and to just push them. I honestly just don’t like going to the judges because you just don’t know what’s gonna happen, and if there’s something left in the tank, you didn’t do your job and put it all out there and go as hard as you could go.”