By Elias Cepeda
UFC featherweight Cole Miller (18-6) doesn’t mince words and isn’t initially open to reflection today. He’s on his way from Miami’s international airport to Los Angeles, where he will fight Nam Pham this Saturday, August 4th, on the preliminary card of UFC on Fox: Shogun vs. Vera.
Traveling is hardly ever any fun, and it must be less so for someone cutting weight, as Miller is. And when he’s asked what he may have learned from his last fight, a loss to Steven Siler in March, Miller is hard on himself.
“I wouldn’t say I learned anything from that fight. I just looked like shit,” he deadpans. “I moved backwards too much, I tried to counter too much, which is not really my game. I don’t know why I did that.”
Miller has never lost two fights in a row in his MMA career — and admits to a certain pride in that — but says that these days, losing at all is not acceptable. “When I was younger [losing two in a row] really meant that you didn’t learn from your previous mistake or didn’t work hard enough. Now its more of a, ‘losing sucks, period,’ feeling,” he says.
Miller’s opponent, Phan, is also coming off of a loss, to Jimmy Hettes at UFC 141 last December. Miller says he can’t take away much from Phan’s last bout, either.
“Nam got rocked in the first round and I think he never really recovered,” he says. “I don’t really think his last fight showed much of anything other than that he is hard to finish. He nearly got TKO’d from punches from the top, he’s got solid boxing and good conditioning, and he hasn’t been finished in years. He’s also a black belt in Karate so he’s got good kicks.”
Phan also happens to be a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but Miller believes he’ll have the advantage on the ground. He’ll just have to get it there.
“I think I have an advantage on the ground for sure, but its all about being able to take it and keep it there,” Miller says. “Nam seems non engaging on the ground, more defensive. When Mike Brown took him down in their fight, he didn’t play Jiu Jitsu at all, he just tried to get up. When he was in Leonard Garcia’s closed guard, he mostly looked to ground and pound. I’m sure his Jiu Jitsu is good, we just haven’t seen him play that game much.”
At 6’1, Miller will have a huge reach advantage over Phan, and the American Top Team member hopes that will make his striking attack that much more potent.
“I hope [my reach] will have a big impact on my striking successfully. But the thing about reach is that it doesn’t mean anything if you cant establish it,” he explains. “That’s what the game is going to be — can I keep him where I want him? Can I keep him at a distance or in really tight and out of that middle range, or is he going to punch me up?”
One thing Miller seems certain of is that he will feel strong and be conditioned. He recently went back down to his old weight of 145 pounds, after spending his UFC career at lightweight.
“This is the best shape ever been in. Naturally, it’s fight week so I’m annoyed, low on weight. This part is the sucky part but this is part of the game. I feel strong this late, and I did well with other training partners that fight at the same weight class. This is my weight class,” he says.
One of those training partners is former WEC champion Mike Brown, who has previously faced and beaten Phan. Miller says he did ask Brown for tips, but that help can only go so far since he and Brown are completely different types of fighters.
“I got some sparring in with [Brown] during camp,” Miller says. “But the thing is, Nam is going to come at me with a completely different type of game than he did with Mike Brown. Mike and I are basically polar opposites. Sure, you ask about little things like how he felt, but I don’t put much stock into video or what somebody else tells me. My game is nothing like anything else Nam has ever fought.”
Miller will be the outsider coming in to face the Southern California resident Phan, on Saturday. It’s a role that, even if he doesn’t relish it, he has gotten used to.
“I haven’t fought in my home state, in Georgia or Florida since 2006 so fighting guys in their home is something I do,” Miller says. “It is more motivating than anything else. I know they are motivated. If I was able to fight in my hometown I’d be more motivated than I ever had been before, I’d be putting in even more work, pushing it extra hard and I expect my opponent is trying to do the same thing. So, I’m putting in the work and driving myself extra to exceed that.”