Miller meets Diaz in UFC on Fox main event Saturday — with a possible title shot on the line
The life of a professional fighter is filled with uncertainty. Their successes and failures play out in the public eye for all to see. When the cage door closes and the battle of wills begin, it becomes a matter of opportunity. One walks away victorious, the other defeated – the outcome sometimes determined by only the slightest of margins. What happens under the bright lights is what the fans are left to debate, but rarely are they given a glimpse into what it takes to make the walk to the cage in the first place. This is what the climb looks like – told in the fighter's words. This is “The Fighting Life.
The Call of the Wild
Somewhere between the bright lights that illuminate superstar athletes and the tranquility of solitude is where you can find Jim Miller. The Sparta Township, N.J., native has spent his entire life outside the fray of the media spotlight, instead choosing a peaceful existence in the quiet wooded hills of north central New Jersey.
As a product of this part of the country, Miller quickly found the motivation inside himself to acquire the skills necessary to complete the tasks at hand. When it came to hunting and fishing, Miller was a natural outdoorsman. And he was much the same a natural when it came to matters of conflict, where Miller quickly learned to hold his own. That energy eventually transitioned to the wrestling mats. But despite most wrestlers having dreams of someday obtaining Olympic glory, Miller’s mind focused on the one thing that had always made sense to him.
“When it came to dreams, I wanted to be a fighter,” Miller said. “My brothers and I would play 'Bloodsport' together in the basement down on the wrestling mats. Every night, there were wrestling matches between myself and my two brothers. Every once in a while, Dad would get into it, and we were always rolling around. We were always screwing around like that, and it was always in my mind that I wanted to be a fighter. I really didn’t take the steps to become one until later on, but it was always in my mind that I wanted to fight.
“It was the desire to compete which drove me towards mixed martial arts. I had been out of wrestling for a year or two, and I was bored. I needed that competitive feeling back. It seemed to be a natural progression from wrestling, and I had been a fan of the UFC and Pride. I had watched the pay-per-views, so Dan and I took the step and started training Brazilian jiu-jistu.”
Shortly after the Miller brothers began to train on a regular basis, the urge to push things further continued to pick at them. This eventually led to joining up with trainer Mike Constantino at his AMA Fight Club, and from there the brothers took the regional New Jersey scene by storm.
“I immediately recognized Jim was an unbelievable talent,” Constantino said. “It’s like any other sport where you see an amazing talent – like a basketball player who shoots the ball and just has that touch. Talent was one of the qualities I saw in Jim initially. He also has a tremendous work ethic. I saw he had natural leadership ability and an extremely high fighter IQ. He really understood the game and knew what he needed to do. It was apparent early on that Jim was special.
“Jim always wants to fight the best guys. He’s always told me from Day One he wanted to fight the top guys in the world. This is where it differs from other fighters. I’ve handled the careers of a lot of fighters that say, ‘Don’t put me with this guy – he’s too good of a striker,’ or, ‘I’m not ready for this or that guy.’ But since Day One, Jim and Dan Miller have always looked at me and told me they wanted to fight the best.
“Whether it was on the local level or in the UFC, there have been no easy fights – and they never wanted any. They always want to fight the best. You also see it in Dan Miller. He’s never turned down a fight and has stepped up on short notice on multiple occasions to save a few fight cards. They are both genuinely unique individuals.”
Jim Miller dominated the regional circuit, and while success came with nearly every outing, his eyes were always focused on the biggest names in the sport. When he finally received the call every professional fighter waits for, he knew the biggest tests were to come shortly – and he couldn’t have been more excited to find out what he was made of.
“From the time I stepped on the mats, that was my goal,” Miller said. “I wanted to fight the best guys in the world right away. I was a huge fan, and still am a huge fan of BJ Penn. He was the king of the lighter weights at that point, and I wanted to see how I could hang with him. I wanted to see how I could do against him. A couple of fights in, I started to feel like I was picking this sport up and realized I could really make a run at this.
“When I received the call from the UFC, I felt like I had stepped in the door and the real work was about to begin. Earlier in my career, I was working during the day and training at night. I would train once a day, and although I was fighting professionally I wasn’t really a professional fighter. Once I got the call from the UFC and they lined up my first opponent, I quit my job and started training full time. I really dedicated my life to it.”