Jim Miller (left) owns a stellar 9-1 record in the Octagon. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Jim Miller is not a complicated guy. He can build a kitchen, he can brew a beer and he can win fights.
“I’m a DIYer, basically,” Miller tells Sherdog.com. “If I can do it myself, I’m going to do it. All the work around my house, I do. I just redid my kitchen and did everything but the countertops. If my wife would let me pour concrete countertops, I would have done that.”
This work ethic is also reflected in Miller’s campaign in the UFC’s lightweight division. At seven straight victories, he owns the longest Octagon winning streak of any 155-pound fighter in the promotion, save for No. 1 contender Gray Maynard. Miller faces former WEC champion Benson Henderson in the UFC Live 5 co-main event on Sunday in Milwaukee. UFC President Dana White says the fight will likely anoint the first challenge for the winner of the October rematch between Maynard and lightweight titleholder Frankie Edgar.
Jim’s father, Mike, a contractor and blue-collar exemplar, says his son’s no-frills march to a potential title shot holds true to his personality: laid-back but hard-nosed.
“My boys were never in a fight their whole lives until they got into a cage,” Mike says. “I think Jim got in one fight in college, but that was it. Somebody stole their keg of beer, so he ran them down.”
Beer, it turns out, is a serious business for Jim. He and his brother, former International Fight League middleweight champion Dan Miller, have been home brewing for years. It is the only beer the family drinks. Oktoberfest is a big deal on the Miller homestead in Sparta, N.J.
“For some reason, sometimes the beer will give you just a really weird buzz,” Jim says. “I don’t know what it is. I think I had 15 gallons on tap last year for Oktoberfest, and we drank almost all of that. It was a weird drunk. I got drunk. I was extremely coherent, but it looked like I was looking through a kaleidoscope.”
There has been little to no suds lately, even on hot Jersey summer days when Jim cedes that a brew would be just the ticket. He has had to watch his calorie intake ahead of his fight with Henderson. Extra weight would not suit Jim particularly well. The 27-year-old, who fought briefly at featherweight earlier in his career, says he has added 15 pounds over the course of his six-year MMA career and today walks around at about 177. Plus, he believes his strongest asset in the cage is his ability to string together threatening techniques at a high pace. Jim only feels content if he is spent after a fight. If he is not, he has either let himself down or finished his opponent.
“I want my corner to have to carry me out of the Octagon,” he says. “That’s what I’m searching for; that’s what I’m fighting for -- is that level. Just to lay it all out there, to actually give 100 percent in 15 minutes. To me, if I go out and I fight and put everything I have into it, I can be satisfied with a loss.
“One thing I don’t understand is when guys go to a decision and are hopping around afterwards, doing push-ups, doing all this stuff after they just lost the decision,” Jim adds. “In my mind, I’m not going to be proud of myself if I go 15 or 25 minutes and lose and still have something in the tank.”
Since they were boys on the wrestling mats, Jim and his two brothers have been familiar with the rigors of competition. Their uncles, Mike and Jim Frick, were standout collegiate wrestlers at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, where Mike was a two-time national champion. Jim’s earliest memory involves watching his uncles wrestle.
Mike Miller and his wife, Barbara, faithfully attended their sons’ wrestling meets and consider their UFC fights a natural extension. They have only missed two of their fights: one because Mike had surgery and could not fly and another because a family dog chewed up Barbara’s passport, preventing her from boarding a flight to England for Jim’s UFC debut in 2008. Mike, by the way, went.
“That’s how much of a diehard [I am],” he says. “I left my wife in [the] airport and said, ‘See you later’ and got on the plane and went to England and watched him fight. My boys won’t let me go on the Underground [Internet forum]. I can’t get a user name, because I would wind up getting in arguments with people.”
Barbara will one-up her husband at the end of the month, when she travels to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for Dan’s bout against Rousimar Palhares at UFC 134. She will literally be in her son’s corner for the fight, holding the water bucket. Mike will stay home to look after Jim’s wife, who is expecting the couple’s second child, and Dan’s son, who will be undergoing surgery. He does not feel left out, even though his wife and eldest son will be able say they have cornered one of Dan’s fights.
“The only one who hasn’t cornered is me,” he says. “I’ll get the corner in one of [Jim’s] title defenses.”
Title implications have hung over Jim’s recent Octagon outings. He admits to being frustrated when the UFC announced in 2010 that the winner of the final World Extreme Cagefighting bout between Henderson and Anthony Pettis would receive the next UFC lightweight title shot. He did not feel either of their winning streaks was of equal weight to his, which was earned in the deep UFC lightweight class. Instead of ruminating, Jim opted to take another fight.
“I think as long as I win, who else can they really put in there against me?” he asks. “There are only a couple more matchups that could even make sense for me. The reason they gave me Kamal [Shalorus] was because he was undefeated [and] coming over [from the UFC], and the reason I got [Charles] Oliveira was because he was undefeated. There aren’t really any guys left.”
Except, of course, Edgar and Maynard, who also happen to be the only two men to put blemishes on Jim’s record. He fought Edgar, who he counts as a friend, in a 2006 title bout for the Reality Fighting promotion in Atlantic City, N.J., while they were rising through the East Coast circuit. Prior to the match, Jim requested a 155-pound title shot but was turned down in favor of Edgar, so he moved down to 145 pounds, won the promotion’s featherweight belt, defended it once and then faced Edgar at lightweight.
Dropping weight is not an option anymore, Jim says, but the time may soon come when he has to take a similar stand in the quest for a title shot. If he felt he was growing as a fighter, Jim claims he would be content having never won a title, but neither he nor his camp feels that way.
Mike Constantino, who trains the Millers at the AMA Fight Club, says Jim’s striking has improved drastically in the past year, particularly his grasp of set ups and the stringing together of combinations.
“Striking is a system. You’re always looking four moves ahead. It’s a chain of events,” Constantino says. “It’s not so much [that] he’s been getting better in a lot of the areas; it’s also [that he’s] getting smarter and learning the system as a whole.”
Constantino says he was particularly proud of Jim’s composure in his kneebar submission win over Oliveira at UFC 124 in December. Jim -- who earned his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from Jamie Cruz, one of the few to achieve the rank of black belt under Renzo Gracie -- felt disrespected by the implication that Oliveira’s jiu-jitsu was superior to his, considering he had a higher belt rank from a reputed instructor.
“Everybody was talking like Jim was the underdog in that fight, so Jim really took it personal,” Constantino says, “and you saw the outcome of that. I was very proud of him for that performance -- the way he dealt with the adversity and the disrespect.”
Jim admits the feeling moved him the closest he has ever come to trash talking, an activity he pledged to himself he would not engage in, despite people in his ear telling him it could accelerate his path to a shot at the 155-pound crown.
“People that know me would know that’s not something I normally do,” he says. “And by now, anybody who’s a fan of the UFC and has seen me fight and heard me talk knows that it’s not me. So why do you want to see me do it? You would know that it’s not me, that it’s fake and it’s a lie, and you shouldn’t gain any entertainment value out of that, knowing that it’s just all B.S.
“I’m not the mouthy guy in the bar,” Jim adds. “I’m sitting back in the corner just relaxing, having a beer.”