"I want the toughest road I can get and I want to fight all these guys." - Jim Miller
Jim Miller thought he was living in a bizarro world. Eight times he had toed the line in a UFC fight, and seven times he walked away with his hand raised in victory. The only man to defeat him, Gray Maynard, was fighting for the world lightweight championship. Miller’s last five fights were all wins, and if there was a short list of contenders for Frankie Edgar’s title, he was on it.
But in December of last year, Miller was going to be the foil for the phenom, 21-year old Charles Oliveira. On paper, the favorite should have been the scrappy New Jersey veteran, but to the rest of the world, all eyes were on the Brazilian youngster. Even those who waited on line for Miller’s autograph worried for him.
“Who are you fighting?” they would ask.
“He’s got an amazing ground game. Are you scared?”
Even today, more than three months later, Miller sounds incredulous.
“Come on guys, I know what I’m doing too,” he laughs. “So I felt a little disrespected leading up to it.”
Then came fight night, and at UFC 124 in Montreal’s Bell Centre, Miller did what veterans do if they feel like they’re being given the short end of the stick – they win. And not only did Miller win, he did so in less than two minutes, forcing Oliveira to tap out to a kneebar that earned him Submission of the Night honors. Don’t worry, Oliveira will be back and he may end up being the future of the 155-pound weight class. But Jim Miller wanted to make it clear that he’s the present.
“I knew I would have a strength advantage once I got a hold of him,” he said. “He was a dangerous kid, and technical, but I have a black belt in jiu-jitsu and I know how to use it. Once I got a hold of him, it was ‘okay, I can power out of anything he throws at me, and it was just waiting on my opportunity to capitalize on something.”
The victory lifted Miller’s pro mixed martial arts record to 19-2, a slate that includes an 8-1 Octagon stint. For a frame of reference, note that UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s record is 21-2. But Miller is still not within striking distance of a title shot with Edgar and Maynard settling matters at UFC 130 in May and former WEC champ Anthony Pettis waiting in the wings should he defeat Clay Guida in June.
“It’s just the way things have panned out in the division,” said Miller. “There was always somebody to throw in there, and with (George) Sotiropoulos losing now (to Dennis Siver at UFC 127) it opens things up a little more, but I’ve got to get by this fight on the 19th. I don’t know why I haven’t been talked about more in contendership and stuff like that. I just keep fighting everybody put in front of me.”
The next one in front of him for “this fight on the 19th” is unbeaten former WEC standout Kamal Shalorus. It’s the classic high risk fight that Miller loves, but in terms of reward, he will be taking on a fighter who will be introduced to UFC fans for the first time this weekend, so there’s not the usual bump in exposure he would be receiving for taking on a bigger name. Miller doesn’t mind though, considering that the Shalorus bout does what he wants it to do – keep him busy.
“I would have liked one of the guys who’s higher up and who has proven himself in the UFC and is at the contender level, but everybody was booked,” he said. “It was either sit and wait and not be fighting until the summer, or fighting in March. He’s undefeated, so it made sense. I like staying active, I like fighting every three months, I don’t like to wait around and not have a fight to train for, so it’s another day at work.”
That’s the aspect of the sport that Miller embraces the most. He’s not about doing endless interviews, tweeting until his fingers fall off, or finding the one camera in a sea of thousands. He’s here on business.
Fortunately for him, business this week involves a quick trip to Newark, and while he’s won his last seven at home, the last one, at UFC 111 in March of 2010 was anything but easy as he eked out a close decision win over Mark Bocek. Yet Miller doesn’t chalk up the difficulty of the bout to anything but the quality of his foe.
“It was just one of those fights, and he’s a tough opponent,” said Miller. “I knew it was a tough fight going into it with Mark, and fighting closer to home really doesn’t have an effect on me. It doesn’t matter who I’m fighting or where I’m fighting, it’s still the same thing – it’s me against another guy. Once I step inside there that’s what I’m focused on, and I try to keep my mind focused on that.”
In Shalorus, Miller will be taking on a standout wrestler who likes to swing for the fences while standing. That style led the Iran native to WEC wins over Will Kerr, Dave Jansen, and Bart Palaszewski, as well as a draw with Jamie Varner, but Miller believes he has the kryptonite for the “Prince of Persia.”
“He’s a very good wrestler, more of a control-type guy, so I think it’s an interesting fight,” he said. “I think I have an advantage on the feet and I think I have an advantage when it hits the mat. He’s got an advantage in between in the wrestling, but the gameplan doesn’t change for any of my fights and it’s not gonna change for this one. I’m gonna go out and push the pace and use everything that I have to try to make him make a mistake, capitalize, and hopefully finish him.”
And if all goes according to plan, it won’t be sit around and wait, it will be on to the next one.
“I don’t want to sit and wait ten months for a shot,” he said. “I’d rather keep fighting. That’s just who I am. I want the toughest road I can get and I want to fight all these guys. A couple people said, ‘oh, it’s a good thing for you with Sotiropoulos losing.’ I wanted to fight him. Then it vindicates me earning that opportunity to fight for the title and become world champion. I’m only looking to fight the toughest and the best guys.”
At this rate, Miller will fight everyone, and by the time he gets to the top, there will be no one left to fight.
“There’s always going to be somebody. I want people gunning for me. When these guys who are fighting on the local circuit are doing an interview, I want the reporter to ask them ‘what are you going to do if the UFC calls you and says you’re fighting Jim Miller tomorrow?’ I want guys to be basically dreaming about kicking my ass.”
Having a bunch of hungry fighters dreaming about beating you? That’s a scary proposition for most fighters, but if you think it is for Jim Miller, then you don’t know him too well, because that’s what he fights for.
“It keeps me on my toes.”