Cole Miller believes his upcoming opponent is still improving as a fighter. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
As he prepares to face Max Holloway at UFC Fight Night in Broomfield, Colo., on Feb. 14, Cole Miller hasn’t spent much time studying his foe’s loss to Conor McGregor.
The featherweight division’s current No. 1 contender was the last person to defeat Holloway, earning a clear-cut unanimous verdict at UFC Fight Night “Shogun vs. Sonnen” in August 2013. Despite tearing his ACL in the second round, McGregor swept the scorecards against the 23-year-old Hawaiian, shifting from punches and kicks early to takedowns and top control late to cruise to victory.
Miller, however, doesn’t have any designs on following the “Notorious” Irishman’s path to victory.
“I don’t really like to watch that fight because the fights I’ve seen of Holloway since... he’s not the same fighter,” Miller said during an appearance on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “He grew a lot in the past year and a half. Having that activity…he’s fought four times in 2014, all finishes. He’s shown a lot of Octagon comfort, a lot of composure and he looks a lot better since that fight with Conor. Not that Conor made him look bad, but I think you see a different maturity level overall.
“Especially at the age he is, he’s gonna be one of those guys that gets better real quick if he can stay healthy.”
Indeed, Holloway had a successful 2014 campaign, earning victories over Will Chope, Andre Fili, Clay Collard and Akira Corassani. Perhaps more impressively, the featherweight known as “Blessed” was able to finish each of his opponents inside the distance. Holloway already has 10 Octagon appearances under his belt at a relatively young age, and his only defeats have come to some of the division’s upper-echelon talent: McGregor, Dennis Bermudez and Dustin Poirier.
The loss to Poirier via first-round triangle armbar came in Holloway’s Octagon debut, a trial-by-fire welcome to the world’s top MMA organization. It remains the only time he has been finished in his pro career. Holloway’s durability, in addition to his progression as a fighter, has impressed Miller.
“I think this is going to have some ramifications as far as the rankings are concerned in the featherweight division,” Miller said.
“He’s only been finished one time. He’s only been beat by two guys. I think he’s only been beat by two guys; that fight with Bermudez was very close.”
While Holloway already had his chance against McGregor, Miller’s opportunity to face the Irishman vanished when the American Top Team product suffered a thumb injury ahead of their scheduled meeting at UFC Fight Night in Dublin this past June. Now, McGregor is challenging for UFC gold, while Miller is simply trying to make a dent in the featherweight rankings.
“Mangrinho” hasn’t competed since January 15, 2014, when he submitted Sam Sicilia with a rear-naked choke 1:54 into the second round at UFC Fight Night “Rockhold vs. Philippou.” The Augusta, Ga., native has won three of his last four overall, with a controversial loss against Manny Gamburyan his only setback during that period. A good showing against McGregor could have served as a launching point, but Miller sees plenty of potential in his current foe, as well.
“It kind of sucks, doesn’t it? I feel that with the way I fight and my style I can give some problems for McGregor. That’s the way it is,” Miller said. “I’m surprised I’m not fighting on the prelims, to be honest with you. When somebody takes a year off with their name not being in the limelight so much, it makes you take a little bit of a back seat. But I think that I’ve shown over the past eight years that I bring a high level skill set, and they see a guy in Holloway that could very well be the future of the sport being as young as he is -- he’s packing a high skill set. This is a fight for the fans, and one they felt obligated to make for the fans.”
Miller could have fought Holloway on the same night McGregor dismantled Dennis Siver to earn the No. 1 contender’s spot. However, the thought of competing in Boston was none too appealing based on his own experience against Gamburyan in August 2013, when it appeared Miller could have finished his foe in the opening frame but the bout was allowed to continue.
That, along with Cathal Pendred’s controversial win over Sean Spencer on Jan. 18, makes Miller feel justified in waiting just a little bit longer to get back into the Octagon.
“They actually asked me to fight Holloway on the Boston card, and I declined it because I wasn’t interested in fighting in Massachusetts. Why? Because in my past experience what I felt was poor judging and officiating from that state,” he said. “Look what happened to that guy [Spencer]. You saw it again, just another horrible call.”
The delay figures to be worth it. In Miller’s mind, his matchup with Holloway on Feb. 14 might as well be the evening’s main event.
“I think if you’re a big fight fan you probably feel the same way,” he said. “You’re gonna see two guys that are gonna go in there and have a track record for bringing it every time.”