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As one of the longest standing members of the UFC’s lightweight roster, Jim Miller has undoubtedly left plenty of people speechless and star-struck in his presence, even though the Sparta, New Jersey native is one of the humblest and most down to Earth pro athletes in the business.
But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot, like it was when Miller met pro wrestling great Bret “The Hitman” Hart earlier this year?
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “He (Hart) was a guy that I watched and was a fan of as a kid, and to be able to meet him, and him being a fan of mine was pretty cool.”
Was he star-struck though?
“It’s happened a couple times here and there,” Miller laughs. “Fighting on some of these big cards in the UFC, you bump into people here and there. But it was mainly with the people I admired and followed in hunting and fishing. I was a little bit like, ‘Wow, this is pretty crazy, I’m having a conversation with (professional hunter) Cameron Hanes, and getting to fish with (professional bass angler Mike) Iaconelli.’ Before I started training, I was a fan of his (Iaconelli). If another guy from Jersey can be a professional fisherman, maybe I could be a professional fisherman. I took a different road than that, but getting to fish with him that first time, I was definitely a little bit taken back by the experience.”
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If you know Miller or have followed his career for any length of time, it’s the expected answer, because the blue collar battler from Jersey has never been one to be interested in the trappings of fame. That’s why he’s one of the most respected veterans in the game among fans and his peers. And if anything, his ride in the UFC over the last eight-plus years has been made sweeter because he’s done it all by being true to himself.
“It’s cool to have gotten to this point where I’m getting these opportunities by doing things my way, by just going out and fighting and not playing the game that some people play,” he said. “It works well for them, but it might not be them. I’ve always been me. It’s never been trying to look a certain way, trying to act a certain way. I’ve never been that type that was going to change myself in order to get other people to like me. Whether that was back in high school, trying to get a date for the prom, or fighting in the UFC. It’s not who I am and I’m not going to change who I am. So doing it the way I’ve done it and getting these opportunities to meet people and get to do some cool stuff, it’s pretty neat. I’m definitely thankful to be in this situation and I’m having fun.”
“Fun” wasn’t the word Miller would use to describe the first few months of 2016. Entering the year, he was coming off a stretch in which he went just 1-3 in his previous four fights, and by March, a loss to Diego Sanchez made it 1-4. In fact, things had gotten so bad that he was planning to take one more fight against Takanori Gomi at UFC 200 in July and then call it quits in the Octagon.
Turns out that he wasn’t breaking down physically after years of training and fighting. Instead, he had contracted LymeJoe Lauzon during their bout at Fight Night Vancouver" align="right" /> disease, and after being diagnosed, his body responded to treatment, and he gave one of his best performances in years when he stopped Gomi in less than a round. A Fight of the Night decision win over Joe Lauzon in their rematch followed two months later, and suddenly, Miller has a two-fight winning streak and is a player at 155 pounds again heading into his UFC 205 bout against Thiago Alves.
So how would he describe 2016 so far?
“Busy,” he laughs. “It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster ride. I was feeling pretty crummy coming into this year and going into that fight in March and I was able to turn it around a little bit. I enjoy fighting, I like being in the gym and training a lot, and the last year or two before this year, I had a tough time doing that. 2015 was a really difficult one for me. So it was hard to fight and then get back into training, but I’m able to do that now and it feels good. I’m excited to get momentum back like I had and keep the train rolling.”
That train will be rolling into Penn Station this weekend and then it’s just a ride up the escalator into Madison Square Garden, where he will be an active participant and not a spectator as the UFC holds its first event in the hallowed arena. For the 33-year-old Miller, who once thought he was going to only fight until he was 34, there are some plans to be rearranged, especially if he can secure a third consecutive win on November 12.
“I’m just going to play it by ear and see where things take me,” he said. “If I can get that streak going again, and get a few more wins in the column, we’ll see how long I can do it. I’m feeling good right now, and I’m excited to fight.”