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Cole Miller vows to never fight in Massachusetts again

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UFC featherweight Cole Miller talks his appeal of UFC Fight Night 26, TRT, American Top Team, the changing face of MMA, rules, respect, sponsorships, paying dues, and the power of accepting the worst outcome

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

On January 15, Cole Miller will compete in his 15th fight with the UFC. That fight, against fellow The Ultimate Fighter alum, Sam Sicilia will mark the first time he has fought in his home state of Georgia since 2006. Miller, who was competing for the Full Throttle promotion, won that 2006 fight by guillotine choke at the 36-second mark of the first round.

Miller's reaction to getting the chance to fight in front of friends and family in Georgia lets you know that he's a no nonsense kind of guy, "I don't feel any pressure to win in front of them or perform real well," Miller told BloodyElbow. "I'm in the UFC, that already says that I am good. I don't feel the need to go out and make a statement because I have friends and family there."

Miller will prepare for his UFC Fight Night 35 bout against Sicilia the same way he has prepared for all of his UFC fights, by training with American Top Team.

Miller has been with the Florida based fight team since 2006, and to hear him tell it American Top Team is a one stop shop for all of his training needs, "There's no need to go anywhere else, I have a plethora of training partners in my weight class, or one weight class away. Since we have so many guys, we get every kind of style, so there's no need to go somewhere else."

The long relationship with American Top Team began when Miller made a trip to visit the gym after one his fights in Georgia. His host during that visit was the now retired Charles McCarthy. What Miller found when he walked into the gym was eye opening. Miller's feelings on American Top Team at the time, "This is professional, this is next level, this is how you get good, by having world class instructors, and world class training partners. Once I started training there, that was it for me."

One thing that Miller knew when he walked into American Top Team was that found he was not a natural athlete. This fact became obvious to him during his high school baseball days, and later when he began his training in mixed martial arts.

Where some would have become frustrated by the lack of natural athletic skills, Miller figured out how to become a success despite the lack of those attributes. "I have to be a technician," Miller said. "I don't have the kind of power where I can afford to swing rounded strikes. I have to use straight strikes to achieve power. With Jiu-Jitsu, I have to do everything exactly right. I have to set things up in the manner where I do use the attributes that I have, my length and hand-eye coordination. Just because I'm not an athlete doesn't mean I don't have attributes. Having to be a technician over an athlete is what has allowed me to be successful. If I didn't pay so much attention to getting things done exactly right, both on the feet and on the ground, I wouldn't be successful."

That success and dedication to his craft has led to Miller to a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His rank and training have allowed him to lead very successful Jiu-Jitsu seminars. Miller feels that the popularity of these seminars has a lot to do with what he has overcome to get to the level he is currently at in Jiu-Jitsu, "I can tell them how to learn something exactly the right way because I'm one of those people that has to do it. I'm one of those guys that's proving it in the Octagon with real athletes, with guys that are really good. I think that's why my seminars always get really good turnouts.

People understand that and they want to learn from a guy that can break it down for anybody. That's what I try and do. I try and take these techniques and try and break them down in a fashion that almost anyone can learn it, and the moment they're done with the seminars I want them to have that implemented in their game. I tell them all the time that if you want to be successful then you're going to have to drill these techniques. If you don't drill, then you're not going to find success with these moves."

The endless drilling and technical expertise has led Miller to a record of 20-8 during his MMA career. His UFC record is 9-6. Of his 20 career wins, 14 have come by way of submission. He has never been submitted in defeat.

Miller's most recent defeat was a controversial loss to Manny Gamburyan at UFC Fight Night 26. Near the end of the first round Miller landed two elbows to the head of Gamburyan, the elbows left Gamburyan dazed on the mat holding the back of his head. Referee Yves Lavigne ruled the elbows as legal strikes during the fight. Despite that ruling, Gamburyan had more than two minutes to recover between the first and second round while the referee attempted to regain control of the Octagon. That time was far more than the normal 60-second break between rounds.

When the fight restarted Gamburyan came back to win. Miller filed an appeal on the ruling with the Massachusetts Athletic Commission. That appeal, which detailed eight rules that were broken, was denied for inconclusive evidence, something that doesn't sit well with Miller "It's bad that I have to make an accusation against the state that they broke rules. If I had broken a rule, if they had pointed out eight things, they would have considered that overwhelming evidence to fine me or suspend me, but because I had to attack their commission they thought those eight rule violations were inconclusive. It blows my mind.

I thought about suing them, but I'm just going to let it go. I have a fight coming up, and I can't take time off to hire a lawyer and start thinking about that. They potentially robbed me of Knockout of the Night, a win bonus and a Knockout of the Night.

The judges messed it up. The athletic commission messed it up later, and I'm just not interested in ever going back to that state. They'll never get any state taxes from future purses from me because I'm never going back."

When speaking about that fight, Miller made it clear that he believed it should have been stopped between rounds one and two. Short of that stoppage, he feels that he should have been given the nod on the scorecards. This led to a discussion on how one of the biggest issues in mixed martial arts can be fixed. That issue is, of course, judging. The way Miller sees it it's not too late to fix the system, "I think this can be fixed. If it goes the distance, raise both guys' hands where it's a draw. They (the judges) need to realize that they can score a round as a draw, let them score a 10-10 round. Let them score more 10-8 rounds.

They need to have seminars where in order for you to be qualified to be a judge you have to pass a course. I think that would fix so many problems with judging. It's not an easy solution or overnight, but that would fix a great deal of these issues."

Judging is not the only area where improvements can be made. Miller also said that there is room for improvement with the referees, and one area that he put a spotlight on is timidity.

The rule states, "Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury."

The rules indicate that timidity is a foul that can result in penalties, "at the discretion of the referee." The way Miller sees it, the referees are far too easy going on this infraction, "You don't need to implement the (Pride) yellow card. There is the equivalent to the yellow card without taking money from the guy's purse it's called a timidity violation, and it happens all the time and the refs don't do anything about it. They don't warn a guy for timidity, and they don't deduct points for timidity. This is in the rules, and I don't think the rules are properly enforced."

Miller's frustration with the sport doesn't stop at the referees or the judges; it carries over to those that compete as well. Miller is sure mixed martial arts is changing, and the way he sees it, that change is not for the best, "There's no speculation. I think that everyone in the media sees it too. The rules promote that. The fans promote it. I think it's unfortunate, but it's just kind of the way that it's going.

I think you're seeing more athletes. You'll get an All-American wrestler, and he'll come in, and he's been grappling for a long time, he's not going to even learn Jiu-Jitsu. He learns anti-Jiu-Jitsu.

Instead of learning a martial art, they're just kind of learning how to stop that. For striking, because they have good wrestling, they realize that they can walk forward like numbskulls and just swinging from the hips because once that good striker throws a legitimate strike, they're just going to shoot and double leg him.

The guys that are strikers, all they're trying to do is stop the takedown. They're not learning wrestling, they're not learning Jiu-Jitsu, they're just trying to stop the takedown, and not engage on the ground at all, and it's not martial arts."

The root cause for this change, according to Miller is the fact that the winner of the fight enjoys the spoils, no matter if that win is a knockout, submission or decision.

The man that has his hand raised at the end of the fight walks away with the victory and the win bonus, which is often equivalent to the fighter's show money. According to Miller, we see too many fighters that are working just for the win, "They're trying to stretch the clock out so that they can win by decision. Martial arts is about escaping an attack unscathed, but secondary it's about limiting your opponent in a manner where they can't hurt you. We're getting away from that."

One thing we're not getting away from in the sport is the use of testosterone replacement therapy. It seems like every time there is a discussion of an upcoming card, one of the questions that invariably gets asked is if any of the fighters have applied for, or received a TRT exemption.

In discussing this seeming end around to legally use performance-enhancing drugs Miller held little back, "TRT is the biggest joke that I've ever heard of. It's so easy to get a prescription. These guys say, 'oh I tested for low testosterone.' No shit. You're overtraining. You went out there, and all you did was work out twice a day, every day. Your body lowers its testosterone levels to tell you, 'hey, quit that shit.' You're sending your body into a state of shock and your test levels drop so you'll quit working out, so you can rest and recover, but these guys will keep doing that, and then they'll test low.

It's so easy for these guys to get TRT and HGH, and all kinds of crap. Then you have guys like Vitor saying, 'TRT didn't have anything to do with that high kick or that technique.' Yeah, yeah it did, and I'll tell you why. When you're on TRT you can do a hundred more reps than you can without it, and that's how you got refined. If you throw a kick ten times or if you throw that same kick 1000 times, which person do you think is going to be most effective at that kick and can pull it off in the real fight? The guy that's doing it more.

When you're on TRT you can train longer, you can recover more, you can do get reps. So yeah, that TRT did help you with that high kick."

The way Miller sees it, fans are willfully ignoring the fact that TRT allows fighters to train longer and harder and recover faster than those that are not using TRT. "One thing is that they don't understand. The other thing is that they don't care. They don't want to understand. They want to keep rooting for these guys.

If you need TRT, if you NEED it, then you don't need to be in the UFC. It's like 'I need to bring my TRT levels up to where it's fair.' No, no, you don't.

When these guys take that stuff it takes away the sincerity and legitimacy of what they already have. These guys that are on this stuff are taking away my money, that's the way I'm looking at it. They're using because they don't have it any more.

As a martial artist, I have to completely disagree with it. I think it's bullshit. I think it's messed up, but I understand it as a man. You're trying to maintain your legacy or provide for your family. I get it like that, but I will never do anything like that because I'm a martial artist first, so I have no respect for these people as a martial artist."

Respect is a topic that comes up often with Miller, as does the fact that he feels there is a certain level of disrespect for him from a faction of the media and fans. One of the things that gets under his skin is the pre-fight cut list that various websites will provide leading into fight cards, "This is still a pretty small community. Fighters do check these websites. Fighters do go to the UG (The Underground) and see what's in the top news, and go to their favorite websites. When these sites do these things and put that kind of stuff out, that's the last thing these fighters want to see. He's got a wife. He's got a kid, and you're already writing about how he should lose his job if he loses this fight.

This is one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen.

These guys bust their butts year round, and they get evaluated on their performance three times a year.

If you worked every day, and I told you, 'Here's Bob, and you guys are both going to write an article for me, and whichever one of you writes the best article I'm going to pay that guy twice the money. The other guy will get half the money, and then he'll get fired.' You wouldn't be friends with your co-workers, you wouldn't be happy all the time. It's crazy.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that, that's what being a fighter is about, but I'm trying to help people understand what we go through, and it sucks.

He knows he's on the cut list. He knows he's going probably going to lose his job if he loses this fight."

When asked if he thought the fighter's contracts were to blame for the added pressure to always perform at a high level, Miller said no, that it's just the nature of the fight game. "In any sport, you will lose your job for underperforming, that's the bottom line. But those other jobs give you more opportunities to perform. You can't fight 16 times a year. You can't fight 162 times a year. It's unfortunate, but it's just the way it is."

Unfortunate would be an understated way to describe the sponsorship situation for many fighters in the UFC. Miller has been critical of the way sponsors work with fighters, and when he saw Mac Danzig walk into the Octagon at UFC on Fox 9 with "Not For Sale" plastered on his sponsorless shorts, he applauded the statement Danzig was making, "I thought that was awesome. I don't think it's about getting money or not getting money. It's about getting what you're worth. I'd much rather fight for zero dollars than have these people tell me about the budget or do a one fight deal.

A lot of sponsors are trying to do one fight deals so they can see how you do. That's not what sponsoring a fighter is about. It can be if that's all you're interested in, but if you want to make that person feel like a part of your team, then you're going to be sticking with that person and help their career, not just have that person help you when they're on top."

As to how the sponsorship issue can be fixed, Miller isn't so sure that there's an easy solution, "I don't know if there is a fix. I think if the market got opened to some other companies, and we could find some way to get more mainstream sponsors then I think it would change things instead of it just being locked into this small MMA community.

I respect the guys that walk out with nothing, instead of just taking what these companies are trying to give."

Another thing that Miller finds bothersome about the fight game is the way some fighters seem to walk right into the UFC and are afforded opportunities that others have had to put in countless hours and effort to attain.

Following his win over Andy Ogle at UFC Fight Night 30, Miller made his dissatisfaction of this aspect of the sport known, when he pointed out the fast track that Conor McGregor seemed to be enjoying after just two fights in the UFC.

A few months removed from that post-fight interview, Miller let it be known that while he specifically mentioned McGregor by name, McGregor was not the only fighter he was referring to, "I don't care about Conor McGregor, I care about these people that get pushed and pushed and pushed. No, you are not a star.

It's not like I think I'm going to crush Conor McGregor. He's a good fighter, a damn good fighter, but he can't walk in, not finish a 20-year-old and move right into the spotlight. What I'm trying to say is beat my ass, or beat somebody that's equivalent to me. Beat my ass and then you get to move up, that's all I'm trying to say. I don't care about him specifically."

Miller said that if the roles were reversed and he was the fighter the UFC was promoting and giving these opportunities to he would be more than happy to take them. However, Miller gives the impression that he would not take those opportunities and use them to promote himself at the expense of others that have paid their dues, "Conor McGregor is good, and the UFC obviously see something in him. He's a good fighter. He belongs in the UFC, nobody is disputing that. I just don't think he's ready to fight Jose Aldo for the title or step up, he was talking al this trash about the top ten guys, two of which are my teammates, which is why I got so upset about it, and those guys earned their dues. Those guys, Nik Lentz and Dustin Poirier, earned their spots, and they worked to get to where they're at."

Paying dues and earning a spot in the UFC is something that Miller is familiar with. He had a tough run between March 2012 and April 2013, going 1-2, and he knew the pressure was on him heading into the Gamburyan and Ogle fights. When asked how he kept a positive mindset during those high-pressure times, Miller had a somewhat surprising reply, "I don't have a positive mindset. I automatically accept that I'm going to lose the fight, that I'm going to get the living crap beat out of me, that I'm going to make somebody else's highlight reel. I accept that.

I then think about how I'm going to plan the next phase of my life, and I've already come to terms with that's the end of it, and that's how I can try my best. I've already accepted every single possible outcome, and I'm okay with it. I've never been one to think with a positive outlook."

The plan for the next phase of his life includes living a normal life. A phrase that was invoked by Georges St-Pierre when he recently announced that he was stepping away from the sport for some time. What will that normal life be like for Miller, "I want to run a martial arts school. I want to do what normal people do. I would like to get married, have kids. I would like to have a family. I would like to own my home. I would like to continue my passion of martial arts and help people."