Jim Miller is a man of many talents and interests. If you don't believe that, take a gander at his Twitter bio. Among the items listed there, you'll find hunter, fisherman, gunsmith, chef and brewer. Miller doesn't forget to add the one thing he is best known for - UFC lightweight fighter.
That occupation is not the first thing listed in Miller's bio. In fact, it's the third item listed, following father and husband. After spending some time with Miller following his jiu-jitsu and MMA training at AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ I would say that UFC lightweight fighter comes in a distant third behind father and husband.
We'll get to that later, but first I had to know how a full-time professional fighter with a wife and three young children finds time to indulge in his many interests. Miller, still sweating through his Bass Pro Shops tee shirt after more than two hours of training answered bluntly, "I don't really do anything to entertain myself. I like to learn new things, discover new things, and improve myself. My mind has to be doing something, it has to be active. I'm not the type to sit in front of the TV. If I have free time, and I'm not spending it with my family, or I'm not on the mats, I like to do something else, learn something new, and get better at something."
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Miller's current focus is on gardening, an interest that has yet to make his Twitter bio. The No. 9 ranked fighter in the UFC's lightweight division said that his ultimate goal is to become self-sufficient with a homestead that would include livestock and a large garden.
It's no surprise to find that Miller would have something like that in his sights. After all, prior to joining the UFC, Jim and his brother Dan worked construction with their father, so the effort that it would take to keep up his dream homestead would not be something that Miller was unfamiliar with.
His hard-working construction past may be one of the reasons that Miller is often referred to as a blue collar fighter. Another reason that Miller has often been tagged as such may be his no nonsense fighting style inside the Octagon. Whatever the reason, Miller agrees with the blue collar tag, "I try not to label myself as anything, but I think I work pretty hard at this, and I think that's what blue collar is, so it's accurate."
There's not a lot of chest pounding or trash talking in Miller's game, something he admits has both hurt and helped him during his long tenure in the UFC, "I think in the beginning it took quite a few fights for me to get noticed, not doing the typical antics that some fighters do. I'm not a mouthy guy; I'm not somebody that needs to be the center of attention and needs to be heard. I'm the type that I'd rather sit back and pay attention and let other people make fools of themselves."
Miller feels that all the extraneous behavior that some fighters engage in takes away from the fact that they are professionals, competing on the biggest stage in the sport, "I believe we're professional fighters, and that's where we prove it, that's where we prove that we're good, Anybody can go on Twitter, and start saying things, but it takes a top level athlete to get the opportunity to step into the Octagon and prove it."
Today, Miller is seeing the benefits of his approach to his profession, "Nowadays, I'm getting recognized as a positive role model, and that's one of the most important things to me. I try and lead by example for my kids and my peers, and I've been shown a lot of respect from other fighters, and I really appreciate that. That's one of the most important things to me."
One of those peers that has shown Miller respect is Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Eddie Bravo. In March Bravo told Bloody Elbow that Miller was the first person that came to mind when he thinks of a current fighter with a sick guard. Responding to the compliment from Bravo, Miller said, "That is one of the biggest compliments anyone has ever given me. Coming from Eddie that's huge. I don't know if I agree with him, but I'll take the compliment."
Bravo is not the only one that has noticed that it is a mistake to tangle with Miller on the ground, something that Miller said he is aware of, "I've had my opponent's corners yell at them for taking me down. When I fought Gray (Maynard), as soon as he took me down his corner yelled at him. I went to the mat with Nate, and the first thing Nick said was stay off the ground with him."
Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
When talked turns to role models of his own, Miller is quick to point out that he found most of the people he has chosen to emulate have been members of his own family, "Basically every man, and the women in my life as well, were just hardworking and great people. I was shaped by that. Both my brothers are amazing men, and I learn a lot from them every day. My little sister is a classy, amazing person, and I try and live up to their standards."
Another group of individuals that Miller considers a part of his extended family are the men that he trains with on a daily basis at AMA Fight Club. "These guys, we shape each other, we mold each other, and we help each other," said Miller. "I think that's one of the things that we have that some of these bigger gyms might not have. These guys are very, very motivated to help me win and get better and vice versa. You hear stories from other gyms where everyone wants to be the champion of the day, and you go in there and go as hard as you can, and that's how guys get hurt. We're trying to improve each other and be a good training partner first and foremost."
Miller has been part of AMA since the beginning of 2007. When he first began training at the gym he was still working construction with his brother and father and training once a day.
Once Miller signed with the UFC he put his construction job behind him and focused on training. The jump from part-time MMA fighter to full time MMA fighter was not without its drawbacks. First, Miller was only making $5,000 per fight (with another $5,000 for a win)on his freshly inked UFC deal. Second, Miller was not only working with his father in the construction business he was working for him. Miller recalled, "We (Jim and his brother Dan) had to tell our dad, 'today's the last day, sorry.' It sucked for him, but he understood and I don't think he would have had it any different."
The gamble of giving up the steady paycheck at his construction job paid off for Miller. In his first two fights with the UFC, he pocketed an extra $70,000 in bonus money for his victories over David Baron and Matt Wiman. Miller said those bonuses changed his life, allowing him to totally commit to training for his professional fight career.
That training has evolved over time. In the early days, when he was a part time fighter, Miller said each session was all out for an hour and a half. Now that he's a full time fighter training multiple times per day, the focus is on quality over quantity, "I try to get in a lot of reps and a lot of techniques, and I've learned that I've got to be the one that if I'm having an off day, I'm the one that has to say, 'okay, these rounds are worthless,' so I have to step out. If I start doing bad techniques in training, and I start getting tired in the fight then bad techniques can come out."
The endless drills allow Miller to not even think about his technique when he is in the midst of a fight. As an example Miller pointed out his last fight, a first round submission win over Fabricio Camoes at UFC 168. "That finish in my last fight - it wasn't a set up, it was a flow," Miller recalled. "As soon as he threw his left hand at me when my legs cleared his face - it was armbar. My body knew it before my brain knew it and I went into the motion, and did exactly what I was supposed to do without having to think about it, and that's what I want my techniques to be like."
Despite his success as a mixed martial artist, Miller remains unsatisfied. "I'm not there yet," Miller said of reaching his full potential as a mixed martial artist. "So, that means thousands of reps more and perfecting it and training perfectly so I can perform perfectly."
At 30-years of age, one has to wonder if Miller will stick around long enough to realize his goal of fighting the perfect fight. He has said in the past that he would like to hang up the gloves when he hits 34. "That was what I kind of figured on," said Miller. "I still haven't done what I set out to do, and I haven't fought completely to my potential yet, and I want to do that a couple times. I still have work to do."
"I've got 16 fights in the UFC, and you've only got a limited number. They add up. They take a lot out of you. So, who knows? I'm perfectly aware that any day could be my last day of training - one devastating injury and that's it. Any fight could be my last fight. If my body holds up, and I can keep fighting, and I can fight at my best and show exactly what I am capable of I'll stick around as long as I can do that."
When he can no longer fight his best, Miller said he'll hang up his gloves and leave the sport with no hesitation or regrets.
Part two of our feature on Jim Miller will be published on Sunday morning.