This Saturday, Jason "Mayhem" Miller will return to the Octagon for the first time since losing to Georges St. Pierre all the way back at UFC 52. Much has happened in the career of Mayhem during those six years. He's become the host of Bully Beatdown, appeared as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, been involved in the infamous Strikeforce brawl, and feuded with Nick Diaz. But there is one thing conspicuously missing from that list.
You know, fighting? The thing that is, in theory, Mayhem Miller's primary job? Since 2007, there has been precious little actual in-ring fighting in the career of Mayhem, and even less against legitimate top level talent. Miller had a solid 2006-2007, going 6-1 with wins over Robbie Lawler and Tim Kennedy. But since then, he's stalled out. Only 7 fights in the last 4 years, and only 2 in the past 2 years. Since defeating Kennedy in 2007 he has not defeated a single opponent of any merit, with his biggest win coming against Kazushi Sakuraba. And when your biggest win in years is against the 2010 version of Sakuraba, that's an issue.
Instead of fighting, Mayhem has been focused on what marketing folks would call "establishing his brand." He's become a personality, not a fighter. And so far, it's worked. It's greatly increased his profile, and landed him a TUF gig that a fighter with his credentials normally would not be close to qualifying for. So, success, right?
Not exactly. Mayhem is now in the UFC, and this is where the trouble comes in, because now, Mayhem is going to have to fight. And he's going to have to win. With Kimbo Slice, Dana White showed that simply being a personality is not enough to guarantee you a UFC slot, particularly if you are not a homegrown UFC talent. Miller will bring some attention with him, but like Kimbo, it's not attention based on his in-ring skills, but on his persona. And that persona can only carry him so far.
A loss to Michael Bisping on Saturday won't set Mayhem back much. Bisping is a top 10 Middleweight potentially on a path to a title shot. Miller can survive that loss. But what if the next time out is a step down in competition and another loss? And another step down after that? Like Kimbo, Miller has a high enough profile that it doesn't make sense to have him fighting unknowns on the prelims, so at some point, he will need to prove he can hang in the best Middleweight division in the world.
Does he have the skills to do it? Based on the past four years, I don't know how you could honestly say with any confidence that he does. Yes he looked good in his Dream loss to Jacare, and yes he had some success against Jake Shields, but even those fights were 2-3 years ago. We simply have not seen Mayhem fight enough lately to know where he stands.
For now, the only person that may know this answer is Jason Miller. Is he motivated to once again become a fighter and not a personality? If he is, he could give Bisping real troubles, and could make a move in the UFC Middleweight division. But if not, his UFC return could be a lot of hype, and no substance. We'll take the first step towards answering this question on Saturday.