LAS VEGAS — Guys like Jim Miller are why mixed martial arts has become so popular. Yeah, UFC fighters like Conor McGregor, Israel Adesanya, Francis Ngannou and Nate Diaz are the big names, attract the most headlines and make the most money, but it’s the rank-and-file guys who are the heart of the promotion.
They’re guys who come to fight every time out, who look to finish, who seek out the most difficult challenges, and who routinely sacrifice their bodies for our enjoyment.
Miller is never going to be considered an all-time great talent, but make no mistake: He’s an all-time great.
How else could one describe a fighter who on Saturday against Erick Gonzalez at Apex on the main card of UFC Vegas 40 will set the UFC record for most bouts with 38? Or how do you describe a fighter who leads the promotion with 45 submissions attempts and leads all lightweights in fights (35), wins (19), submissions (9) and total fight time (5:51:47)?
The only way Miller brings attention to himself is by his performance in the cage. He’s not showing up on the crime blotter. He’s not creating headlines by complaining about pay, or title shots, or ranking, or having to do too much media.
Miller’s name is littered throughout the record books, but you almost have to beg him to get him to talk about it.
“I don’t really care too much about the numbers,” he said. “I’ll step into the lead again for most fights in the UFC, but it’s kind of arbitrary to me. I feel like I’d be in the mid-40s if I could have been fighting as often as I wanted to. I’ve had a few layoffs that weren’t up to me that were like six-to-eight months. I was like, ‘Man, I could have fought two times in that period.’ It’s cool, and I want to get to 40 [fights] in the UFC and I think that’ll be pretty easy to get to, but the total numbers aren’t a huge thing I’m worried about.”
Miller, 38, is 32-16 overall in MMA and is 22-15 in the UFC. He won his first two UFC fights in 2008, winning Submission of the Night in his debut and Fight of the Night in his second outing.
He began his UFC career 9-1, but never got a title shot. He was close, but losses to Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz in a three-fight span in 2011-12 cost him his best chance.
He’s never complained and just gone about his work as a professional each time he signs on the dotted line.
He’s also fought the best of the best. In addition to Diaz and Henderson, he’s faced the likes of Donald Cerrone, Dustin Poirier, Diego Sanchez, Joe Lauzon, Thiago Alves, Anthony Pettis, Dan Hooker, Charles Oliveira, Gray Maynard, Beneil Dariush, Michael Chiesa, Takanori Gomi and others.
He’s faced Oliveira — the reigning UFC lightweight champion — twice. He’s also met Lauzon twice.
He’s been through the ringer and never gotten it easy, but he slogs ahead, looking to better himself and never giving up on the opportunity to fight for the belt one day.
But he knows he can’t fight forever, and knows the day he’ll have to walk away is coming sooner rather than later. He doesn’t dwell on it and keeps himself in the best possible shape to prolong his window.
“I feel like some of my peers have a tough time dealing with it and they don’t like to talk about retirement,” Miller said. “After having gone through [Lyme disease] knowing I couldn’t compete feeling the way that I was, and finally getting back to it and being able to train again, I have a mature attitude toward it. I’m OK thinking about it. I’m OK talking about it.
“It’s necessary. I’m not going to be able to fight until I’m 80. So I know there’s going to be a change in my life, and that’s OK. It’s not a sign of quitting, or a sign of weakness like some people think it is, to talk about retirement. I have four kids and I’m the provider for our household. There is a lot of responsibility and so I realize it’s OK to think about it and plan for it.”
And so he does his thing, as he has for more than 13 years now, making himself into one of the better fighters in the world for all of that time.
He is ready for the Gonzalez fight, and if his history is an indication, he’ll be in the running for a fight night bonus again.
Just don’t expect to hear Miller boasting about himself, or complaining about whatever has happened to him along the way.
It’s not his style.
He’s the kind of guy who has helped make this sport so enthralling to so many, and thankfully, he’s never going to change.