“There isn’t anything I haven’t seen inside the Octagon.”
Those are the words Jim Miller shares as he works a phone interview inside his kitchen with what sounds like a festival of youth going off in the background. He apologizes for the background noise, but only slightly, because he’s a father above all else and doing pre-fight interviews are part of his day job that sometimes overlaps with his full-time gig as head of his household.
If there is anything fans should know about the younger of the fighting Miller brothers, it’s that multi-tasking is part of the very fiber of who he is as an individual. In addition to being one of the perennially top-ranked lightweight fighters in the world for the better part of the past decade, he’s also an avid outdoorsman, carpenter, gym owner, father and husband. The 32-year-old New Jersey native is also a hunter and fisherman who cures his own meat and brews his own beer, but all these things will be on display when the reality show he’s filmed with his brother Dan hits the airwaves this coming spring.
Yet, while all of those things have a place and purpose in his life, the current priority is his career as a fighter and the tilt he has coming up against Michael Chiesa at Fight Night: Namajunas vs. VanZant on December 10 in Las Vegas. The bout will mark the Sparta native’s 21st appearance inside the Octagon, and that type of longevity is rarely found on the current landscape at the highest level of mixed martial arts. This is something Miller knows is an accomplishment, but being the hard-charging product of a blue-collar upbringing doesn’t allow him to rest on his laurels in any regard.
There is always work to be done, but his veteran status has allowed him to see a different angle and approach to making sure those matters are tended to. He knows when that Octagon door closes he’s going to fight and do everything he can to win, but one thing he’s learned in his 10 years competing as a professional is the importance of making it to fight night in the best shape imaginable.
“I’ve had to learn to dial it back and that’s made a world of difference,” Miller explained. “I’m a pretty stubborn guy and I’m a born fighter, so it’s never mattered what hurt or what my body was telling me because I was going to push through regardless. I took that approach for so long and it had some detrimental aspects in the long run. But now I’m training smarter and putting all my focus on getting to the fight because that’s what matters. Going hard in the gym and sparring four days a week isn’t worth it anymore because all that does is beat up your body. Now, I put my focus on specific things and honing my craft in other areas.
“Are there days where I feel like punching people in the gym and ripping loose on a sparring session? Of course there are. But is that always the smartest thing? I don’t think so. It’s been hard though, and it’s hard for people to understand. Even with my brother it’s hard sometimes to get on the same page. I get paid to show up to fight. I don’t get paid to have battles in the gym. I need to be as strong as I can be and ready and able to perform at my best when it matters and I believe I’ve found the best way to do that at this stage in my career.”
Miller understands he’s as hard headed as they come in many ways, and perhaps hasn’t always traveled the best route to making sure the most important night of the process gets the most attention. Nevertheless, age and wisdom has brought him to a place where he can see the things that need to be done in order for him to shine when it matters most, and he is absolutely positive he’ll have the best he has to offer against Chiesa in Las Vegas.
“I’m going to do what works for me and that’s be aggressive,” Miller said. “I have to push the pace and creates scrambles. He’s a big guy who likes to wear on his opponents and I’m not going to let that happen. I’m coming into this fight in great shape and with the mindset that I’m going to bring the fight to him and not let him hold me down. I’m going to be the one who dictates the pace and the fight and not the other way around. As I said before, I’ve seen everything there is to see inside the Octagon and none of it scares me.
“I’m going to fight as hard as I can fight for as long as I can fight, and when I do that it’s been pretty successful for me. I’m going all out and I’m bringing every bit of aggression and technical knowledge I have into this fight.”
A victory over Chiesa on December 10 would make it back-to-back successful performances for the scrappy lightweight and throw him right back into the mix of the elite-level shark tank he’s called home for so long. And while he’s no stranger to putting together lengthy runs and being vaulted into the title contention talk, this stage of the game has brought a different perspective to Miller as he sees his fight career as a whole.
It’s not about titles or acclaim, just as it’s not about how much time he can get in the spotlight. For Miller, it’s about knowing he gave his very best when it was time to go to work, and can honor the values his father Mike instilled in him so long ago.
“Obviously I’m chasing victory at all costs but there’s always something more to it for me,” Miller said. “I know what I have to give and if I go out there and fight my ass off, win, lose or draw I can take at least some comfort in knowing I did my best. Growing up, Dan and I watched our father work through pain and adversity but he was a guy everyone could count on to show up and give an honest day’s work. I get paid to fight. That’s my job, and I’m always going to be the person you can count on to show up and give everything he has to get the job done.”