Juliana Miller has been in London for almost a week ahead of her Saturday bout against Veronica Hardy. You might think she can’t wait to get in her first fistfight since winning The Ultimate Fighter 30 last summer. And this is true, but it’s not the only reason for getting to England early.
“I'm in California and fighting in London is an eight-hour time difference, so I'm trying to get acclimated to the time because when I get there, if I only have three days until fight day, my body doesn't have time to process everything,” said Miller before she got on her flight overseas last Wednesday night. “You gain about three to five pounds in an 11-hour flight, and this fight is so important to me that I'm just making sure that my body's acclimated and ready to go before I just get there. I don't want to be drowsy or lagging. I'm ready to put on a show.”
So far, Miller has delivered on that promise in a pro career in which she’s won four of five fights, finished each of her victories, and also halted Brogan Walker to earn the TUF crown. So while she doesn’t have the experience of some of her peers, she certainly has the talent and determination to get to the top of the flyweight division. And you can add in the smarts, as well, because she wants to do this all the right way, which meant not rushing into another fight after her UFC debut.
“The time was well spent, to be honest,” Miller said of the break. “I had let the UFC know I was ready to fight about three months after, and my matchmaker Mick Maynard said, ‘Hey, listen, we have a fight for you, but it's going to be March in London and I think it'll be a great fight. And I said, ‘Yes sir, we'll take it.’”
Contract squared away, Miller took three weeks for traveling, visiting friends, and of course some jiu-jitsu, then it was back to the gym for what has been a long, but productive, training camp.
“I've never looked stronger or sharper,” said the 26-year-old, who seems too young in her career – and life - to have it all together like this, but she admits that she’s still a work in progress.
“I think that fighting, in and of itself, is a rollercoaster,” she said. “If anyone says that they've got it together all the time, I would say, you are lying. This is an emotional rollercoaster for me. I really want to win, and I want to prove myself. But also, if I was training hard nonstop for six months, your body starts to break down. So, it's definitely been a learning curve for me to find a healthy middle ground where now I'm heading out there, I'm excited, I am strong, I'm not burnt out, so I had to take some rest days. And learning when to slow down and when to speed it up has been quite the journey. And I don't think that I have it down yet. However, I think that I'm intelligent enough to know this isn't just fun. This is my job.”
That’s usually a step that takes a few losses on the big stage for a fighter to figure out, so the San Diego native is already ahead of the game, and knowing that this is how she makes her living now, she’s willing to make the sacrifices necessary to not be the one on the production line making up the numbers, but to soon be the one in the executive suite making decisions with a championship belt on the desk.
“I take this very seriously,” Miller said. “Moreover, I want to be the best in the world. When I get that drive and focus, there's very little I will pay attention to outside of that. I'm so focused on the fight that I've missed family events, people going out for dinner, my friends; I don't care about any of that as much as I care about winning. I think I've become kind of a grandma during fight camp because all I want to do is study and I don't care much to go outside. And I'm really grateful for the opportunity. And I will say I have a chip on my shoulder in the sense that I feel I need to prove myself.”
Impressive words from someone who made it to the big show for a reason but still believes that the “real” work starts on Saturday at the O2 Arena.
“We’re not UFC caliber yet,” said Miller, referring to herself and her TUF 30 castmates. “There's a reason we all weren't in the UFC yet. It's because we were not at that level. So yeah, I beat some good girls to get to where I'm at, but that doesn't mean I've beat a UFC girl yet. Veronica Macedo, I think that people overlook her capabilities. So I have not been taking this lightly and I want to earn my place, so I know how hard I need to work to get there, and I'm just ready to show the world that I do belong in the UFC.”
I remind her that if she went through the TUF experience, won all her fights and then emerged victorious in the finale, she has more than earned her place. I don’t think she’s buying it, but she is right that in the former Ms. Macedo, who married UFC vet Dan Hardy last year, is being underestimated by some, especially after a three-year layoff. So she’s going to act accordingly on fight night. I ask her if it’s necessary to put some doubt in Hardy’s head as soon as they engage.
“My goal is to go be the best version of me,” Miller said. “I don't think that I need to say or do anything to put doubt in her head. My message will be sent the second that my fist hits her. I think that my power is underestimated in my division. So I'm just ready to respectfully go out there and do my thing. I'm not going to try to say anything weird. I actually want her to feel excited and happy she took the fight, no matter the outcome, because I'm grateful to share the cage with a good warrior.”
For someone nicknamed “Killer,” Miller is someone who can turn doubters into believers when it comes to the sport of mixed martial arts. Sure, it’s all about the win on fight night, but before and after, she wants to leave an impression of a different sort.
“I will never forget where I came from, when I started, when I had nothing,” she said. “Why I fight is because of where I came from. I want to show the world. I want to show the world that you can overcome your issues. I did not have an easy life going growing up. And I will say this is the most stable I've ever been. And I learned I'm actually not an underdog. I'm a 4 to 1 favorite this fight. So this is more for me to speak about where I came from and what makes me such a heart-filled fighter. When I fight, I fight with heart. It's not just some moves that I learned. This is me letting out my life and wanting to build, wanting to build my name, my brand, so that way I can make a difference in the world.
“One day, I want to teach young women and kids, and I want to show that just because you've been assaulted or bullied does not mean that your game is over. If you've been through emotional trauma and you want to quit on life, I fight for people like that, that say, ‘I can't do it, I'm going to give up.’ Because I was them about three-and-a-half years ago. I was at my rock bottom. So I like to put myself in the position where I could be a 10 to 1 favorite and, in my head, this person is better than me and they're coming to kill me. And never will I disrespect any opponent in the UFC enough to go in there laughing that this is going to be a walk in the park. Fighting is not a walk in the park. I take my safety seriously and I will protect myself at all times. That's the number one rule in MMA. So I definitely put myself in a mindset of what I've overcome, who I am and what I've been through.”
Juliana Miller. Occupation: Fighter