Jim Miller has been in the UFC for nearly 13 years
He’s one of six men with more than 30 appearances inside the Octagon and 20-plus UFC victories. He has the most wins in the history of the UFC lightweight division, a record that stands as both a testament to his longevity and his talent, given that the 155-pound weight class has long been considered the deepest, most competitive division in the sport.
This Saturday, the 36-year-old father of four will make his way to the Octagon one more time, stepping in against up-and-comer Roosevelt Roberts in the opening bout of this weekend’s five-fight main card at the UFC Apex.
Given everything he’s accomplished and his standing as one of the most respected fighters in the game, what is it that continues to propel Miller into the cage?
“I haven’t fought everybody yet,” he answered with a laugh, only partially kidding.
The veteran is one of the few fighters who genuinely would compete every couple of weeks if the opportunity arose. He’s such a willing combatant that former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva knew that regardless of the date, location, or opponent he sent Miller’s way, the Sparta, New Jersey native was going to respond with an immediate “yes.”
“I’ve said it for a while now — there is a difference between ‘fighting professionally’ and being a ‘professional fighter’ and I am a professional fighter,” explained Miller, who has shared the Octagon with the majority of the major names to pass through the 155-pound weight class over the last dozen years, plus a number of ultra-tough, lesser-known dance partners as well. “I’m trying to transition and have that income after fighting, but for now, it’s still a fun way to make money.”
While most human beings can think of numerous other ways to make money that sound far more fun and involve being punched in the face far less often, Miller’s continued enjoyment of stepping into the cage is much more about trying to solve puzzles and showcasing the countless hours of work he’s put in over the years than it is about the actual face-punching.
“I’ve been training to fight for 15 years, and there are things that I do on a regular basis in the gym that in 40-some-odd fights, I’ve never had the opportunity to use it or I’ve never stuck in a fight,” began Miller, who was 36 fights deep into his career when the man he faces this weekend made his professional debut. “I owe it to my training partners and the guys that I’ve tormented with liver shots and stuff like that to land one in a fight.”
As much as he chuckles while offering up his explanation, it’s also clear that Miller is genuinely annoyed by this reality.
Though he admits there are times when he’ll wake up from a dead sleep two or three days after a bout, jolted to life by a realization of what he could have done or should have done to change the outcome of a particular contest, the individual setbacks he’s suffered inside the Octagon gnaw at him less than the fact there are still weapons in his arsenal that he’s yet to fully utilize inside the UFC cage.
“It’s not easy to show 100 percent of who you are inside the Octagon, let alone dealing with a world-class opponent and weight cuts and all the other bulls*** that is out of your control. It’s hard to be 100 percent, firing on all cylinders. There are things I know I can do that I want to do, and the fun part is that it’s difficult to show that.”
And there is one particular thing that bothers him more than anything else.
“I have kimura’ed so many people in the room,” continued Miller, who has registered 17 of his 31 wins by way of submission. “The best guys that I have ever gone with, if I catch them with anything, it’s usually a kimura, but I don’t have one in any fight.
“I’ve probably had a dozen and a half where I got it locked up and for whatever reason, be it fatigue or sweat or this or that, I have never landed it in a fight. Some of those fights I ended up losing, some I ended up winning and it didn’t matter, but for a very long period of time, it was my gym move. Everyone that rolled with me knew, ‘first and foremost, I’ve got to look out for the kimura,’ and it just bugs me. That gets me more than any specific loss or anything like that.”
Miller breaks into a laugh after articulating his wholly understandable annoyance with never hitting his “signature move” in an actual fight, but it’s in that unique insight into what drives him where that distinction between “fighting professionally” and “being a professional fighter” becomes so clear.
Over the course of a career that has spanned three decades and landed his name in the UFC record books, the thing he still chasing on the eve of his 47th professional bout is not fame or fortune, and it’s not additional records and the lightweight title, but rather a submission win via the hold he’s tortured training partners with for the last 15 years.
That deeper, personal focus and drive to showcase as much of himself and his talents as possible is what makes Miller a “Professional Fighter” — capital P, capital F — and a big part of what has contributed to the long-time lightweight’s legacy as one of the most respected men to ever step into the Octagon.
“Obviously I always wanted the opportunity to challenge for the title and I still feel that I have it left in me to make a run for it, but I don’t know if it would be worth it if I lost the respect of my peers,” said Miller, illustrating just how much weight the reverence of his contemporaries means to him. “If you told me that I had to lose the respect of my peers in the process, I don’t know; I don’t think it would be worth it.
“The numbers, they don’t really do anything for me,” he continued. “When perennial contenders in other weight classes come up and say they’re huge fans, that means something to me; it really does.
“That’s the feather in my cap; that’s the big one, because there will be nothing tied to that. There is never going to be anything that says that in a record book; it’s just going to be something where I know that I’ve earned the respect of my peers, and that’s all that I need.
“It’s a heavy one,” he added, a deep exhale chasing his words. “I didn’t get the respect from them by doing something outside of the Octagon — I did it by going out and fighting as hard as I could and leaving it in there.”
He’s sure to do the same again on Saturday when faces off with Roberts, the 26-year-old Contender Series graduate making a quick turnaround after registering a second-round submission win over Brok Weaver at the end of May.
Some in Miller’s position may take offense to being positioned opposite a surging upstart looking to take a major step forward in their careers, unwilling to be the veteran stalwart who turns into the vanquished foe that propelled the new name further up the rankings.
But as you would expect, Miller has no quarrel with being paired up with Roberts, understanding that this is how the machine works and welcoming the opportunity to test himself against one of the few remaining lightweights on the UFC roster he’s still yet to face.
“I want guys to call me out. I want guys to ask to fight me; it shouldn’t be the other way around,” offered the veteran. “In the beginning, I wanted to fight BJ Penn; that’s who was training to fight in my third and fourth fight ever. I want these guys to want to fight me and it’s cool that they do.
“He’s tough, coming off a good win and he’s got a head of steam behind him,” he said of Roberts. “He’s a dangerous dude and I’m ready for that.”
Of course he is.
He’s Jim Miller, Professional Fighter, and being ready to face dangerous dudes is what he does.