Phillip Miller: Where Is He Now?

In the Octagon

By Jack Encarnacao Apr 28, 2009
Jeff Sherwood/

Phillip Miller left the
sport with a 16-0 record.
Miller soon caught the eye of the UFC, where he established himself as a true prospect. He debuted at the company’s first event in England -- UFC 38 in 2002 in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Miller faced James Zikic, an Englishman with good boxing, in a middleweight fight. Miller took the first two rounds with wrestling, and proved durable in securing a unanimous decision win even though Zikic laid in hard shots to his fatigued opponent in the third round. Earlier that night, 17-0 British middleweight Mark Weir made a serious impact, flattening Eugene Jackson in 10 seconds with a straight right in one of the fastest knockouts in UFC history.

Four months later, Weir was matched with Miller on the undercard of UFC 40 “Vendetta,” the first mixed martial arts event in North America to top $1 million in gate receipts due to the Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock main event. The show also attracted 150,000 pay-per-view buyers, the UFC’s highest since the mid-90s. Miller showed tremendous heart on the big stage, powering out of Weir’s triangle attempts in the first round and shaking off what looked to be a vicious head kick as the second round began.

“If I could get a picture of that I would and put it up on a wall,” Miller said of the kick, which he recovered from to secure a fight-ending rear-naked choke. “It was a great reminder that, if you fake a shot, to keep your hands up. I got field-goaled… Honestly, I can’t even tell you that I felt it. When I was fighting, I never felt the hit. I just always felt my head getting moved.”

Miller had finished a hot prospect in gutsy fashion in the most action-packed fight of the most-watched UFC card in years. His next fight was his last.

UFC matchmakers wanted to pair Miller with the surging slugger Phil Baroni, but it never happened. Miller said he wasn’t in the room during negotiations, but he’s heard different stories from Tedd Williams, his manager at the time, and UFC executive Joe Silva about what happened.

Miller said he had a verbal agreement with the UFC that he would be paid no less than half of what his opponent was earning. Miller had made $4,000 to show and $4,000 to win for his last fight, and was set to go up to $8,000 and $8,000 for his third fight. Baroni had been taking in paydays between $40,000 and $60,000.

“When we asked how much (Baroni) was going to make, they said, ‘That’s not really any of your business,’” Miller said. “If he only made $40,000 walking in, then I should have made $20,000 walking in. It’s promoters and they’re businessmen. What can you expect?... It was aggravating to finish a fight, and a month later they’re telling you how much of a battle it was and you put on such a great show and they’re going to take care of you. And the next month they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re done with you, the contract is null and void.’”

There wasn’t a neat-and-tidy, revelatory moment at which Miller decided to call it quits. But gradually, he began to realize he was missing a step in training, and his desire to improve was faltering.

“I knew it was time to take a break, especially when you start seeing it in your training,” he said. “You’re just not as focused, and that’s when you should step away. Instead of training two, three times a day, you’re training once, maybe twice a day. Before you’d be doing anything, you’d be calling everybody up, you’d be trying to find some training partner… you’re not putting the effort out to find the very best out there to train with.”

Within two years, Miller had joined the police force, a career track he had “put on the back burner” to pursue a fighting career. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, enjoys his job and says he is much more financially secure than he was in his fighting days. He continues to train in local gyms, including one run by “Big” John McCarthy in Valencia, Calif. He mostly rolls with up-and-coming fighters. No big names, no serious injuries, no pressure to get into the game again.

At a moment where several legendary fighters look to be straddling the line between closing out their careers fittingly and disparaging how they’ll be remembered, Miller seems truly content with his decision to retire as a 16-0 mixed martial artist.

“I’d never want to quit on a loss. I mean, I couldn’t,” Miller said. “Even if I lost a fight, I would have to come back and fight again. And then one wouldn’t do it. Then I’d be stuck in the cycle again. You can’t just go out on a loss.”
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