By Cage Potato contributor Matt Kaplan
Like fellow New Jersey native Frank Sinatra, UFC lightweight Jim Miller has been doing things his way. A former Cage Fury Fighting Championship and Reality Fighting title holder, Miller has used his ferocious style to catapult himself to the bright lights of the UFC Octagon, but the fire in Miller’s belly is not lit by the prospect of championship gold or the adulation of the masses. Instead, he maintains a deep commitment to his own personal standard of excellence and is poised to fulfill his own destiny, win or lose.
With a dominating win over the heavy-handed Duane “Bang” Ludwig at UFC 108 just two months ago, the New Jersey native is set to take on submission maven Mark Bocek at UFC 111 on March 27. I caught up and talked with Miller about his upcoming match, personifying a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, and a few of New Jersey’s finest exports.
So have you let the excitement of fighting Mark Bocek at UFC 111 in front of your hometown New Jersey crowd get to you, or have you been keeping it business as usual?
For me it really is business as usual. You know, it really doesn’t matter where I’m fighting. It’s cool that I’m going to have a lot more fans there, and that I don’t have to fly, but other than that, I’m stepping into the Octagon against a tough opponent, and that’s really what I’m focused on. Fortunately, the UFC fans have been great wherever I’ve been.
Have you altered your preparation at all for the dangers that Bocek presents?
You know, I really don’t train specifically for my opponent. I feel that I have so much to improve in all aspects of the fight game, so I just try to get better.
I know that he’s good at chokes. He’s got a mean guillotine, he’s good at taking guys’ backs, and he has a knack for the rear naked [choke]. So, of course, I’m trying to prevent those situations in my training. I don’t want to give him any opportunity to do those things, but other than that, I’m just trying to get better.
For your UFC 108 fight, you were scheduled to face Tyson Griffin and Sean Sherk before finally fighting Duane Ludwig. Now you have Bocek. Does a part of you want to face a higher-profile guy, a more recognizable guy, like Griffin or Sherk, so that a win over him could perhaps put you closer to a title shot?
Yeah, definitely. That’s the name of the game: you’ve got to beat somebody up there to take the steps toward the title shot and earn the respect of the UFC fighters.
Honestly, Mark is a really tough guy, and he’s an interesting fight for me. He’s actually the first black belt that I’m going to end up fighting…hopefully. I’m crossing my fingers. I’ve had a couple of other guys lined up, but it never seemed to pan out. I’ve fought some really good grapplers, guys with really good all-round games, guys with really good control, but he probably poses the biggest threat of subbing me out of all the guys I’ve fought.
It’s fun for me. It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to it. I want to fight the best. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I do what I do.
After Bocek, is there anyone you’d like to fight? Anyone you’ve had an eye on?
I really wanted to fight Tyson [Griffin]. He looked great when he fought Hermes. I think it would be an exciting fight. I have a lot of respect for the kid.
And now that the UFC signed [Takanori] Gomi, that would be awesome. I’d really have to keep my chin tucked. I was watching him fight before I started fighting five years ago. I’ve seen him fight plenty of times and thought, “Wow, it would be so cool to work my way up and fight that guy.”
You said a minute ago, “I want to fight the best. That’s why I’m here.” Is your biggest motivation winning that championship belt, or is it maybe something else?
I’m not like most guys. I’m not satisfied unless I fight my fight, win or lose. I can fight a perfect fight and still lose. If I get to fight BJ [Penn], it’s a really tough fight to win, no doubt about it. I can go in and be in the best shape and fight a great fight, and still lose. And that wouldn’t bother me.
But going out there and fighting like crap, and not doing anything to really ever try to finish the fight, that would disappoint me, even if I win. You know, I’ve never been excited about a decision win. I’ll scream and yell when I choke somebody out because that’s what I fight for. I want that dominant victory.
As for the aforementioned Mr. Penn, he’ll be fighting your sometimes training partner – and opponent back in the day – Frankie Edgar. What do you think about that fight?
It’s a great fight. BJ has looked untouchable in his last couple of fights, but I think Frankie has as good a shot as anybody. The thing about Frankie, he doesn’t get in a rhythm. He’s a smart fighter, and he keeps changing.
I can tell you from fighting him, I could probably have gone harder than the pace that we were going, but it was so exhausting because you never know what he’s going to do. He never takes a second off. The ebb and flow of the fight was exhausting, and that could frustrate BJ.
Frankie’s got great boxing and his wrestling is great, but it’s different from most guys’. It’s different from Gray [Maynard]’s. Not to sound mean or anything, but Gray goes in there like a brute: he goes in, boom, big double, and he drives you down. And that’s the way I do it too.
Frank has good movement, he moves you up on your feet, and the way he controlled Spencer Fisher, he’s at another level with this type of stuff, and it’s not something a lot of people are used to. So you never know. I think he’s got a hell of a shot, and I’m excited for him.
For me, my brother, and Frankie, we all basically started at the same time, and Jersey MMA has taken a downturn, promotion-wise. There were some really tough organizations, and Jersey was, I think, the first state to sanction MMA; if it wasn’t the first, it was the second. The athletic commission has been sanctioning fights longer than the other guys, so the quality of opponents has been forcing everyone to get better. You know, there are guys in the Midwest that have 15 fights and then fight someone making their MMA debut. Over here, the athletic commission won’t let that happen. We’ve always had to fight guys that were our equal, and I think that’s really accelerated our careers.
You’re a pretty no-frills, all-business, blue-collar kind of guy who just takes care of business inside the cage. Is that your personality, or do you do make a special effort to avoid the theatrics that sometimes makes its way into MMA?
I’m totally a blue-collar guy. I understand a lot of these guys do things like that because in this business, you do kind of market yourself, but, you know, the way I always looked at it, I’m just a fighter. Whatever I say really isn’t going to make that big of an impact on people. I just try to go out and fight and have fun. I do it because I enjoy it, and fortunately, now I can support my family doing it, but that wasn’t the case in the beginning.
When I first started out at 22 years old, I made pennies. It was an expensive hobby for quite a while. So I’m here to fight tough guys, guys I respect. Anybody that trains to step in the cage with me, I’m going to have respect for. I choose not to talk crap; that’s just who I am. As a fan, I don’t need to hear what someone has to say about someone else. I try to fight like someone I’d be a fan of, basically.
Who are you a fan of?
I’ve always been a big fan of Wanderlei [Silva]’s. He just goes out there and fights and he loves what he does. Even now, he’s not on top of the world any more. He used to be the baddest man on the planet, and he’s not anymore, but he just goes out there and he just goes. He goes out there and lets loose, and that’s awesome.
Getting back to the no-frills stuff, you don’t even have a nickname.
Yeah, I’m not going to make up a nickname that looks cool. If I had a nickname that people call me I’d use it – like “Rampage” Jackson has one – but I’m not just going to make one up. My name is James, and people call me Jim. So there you go.
Fair enough. But you do have walk-out music. What do you look for in a walk-out tune?
I don’t know. The beat? I come out to “Bad Moon Rising.” That’s just a song I like. I like the words of the song. Trouble’s coming, and I envision myself as that trouble.
Nice. So you’re sticking with that for UFC 111?
It might change. We’ll see. We might have a little surprise.
I see. Before we go, let’s do a little word association. Just tell me what comes right to your mind.
I’m terrible at these.
MTV’s Jersey Shore.
Jersey Mike’s Sub Shack.
Battle of New Jersey: Springsteen vs. Bon Jovi.
By way of…
Well, that’s about all I’ve got. Stay healthy and good luck at UFC 111.