When UFC lightweight Jim Miller fights Charles Oliveira on Saturday night in Milwaukee, it will mark his 31st bout inside the Octagon. That number is the most in the history of the promotion. Though he never competed for the belt, Miller has faced some of the sport's toughest mixed martial artists since turning pro in 2005: Anthony Pettis, Dustin Poirier, Joe Lauzon, Diego Sanchez, Nate Diaz and Frankie Edgar, to name a few.
In our latest installment of "My life as a fighter," Miller looks back at the highs and lows of his career, recalling some of the formative moments, friendships and biggest events. He also touches on a number of different topics on his mind at this point in his career, including weight classes, injuries and life after MMA.
Editor's Note: This was originally published in October 2017 ahead of Miller's fight with Francisco Trinaldo.
I fight because I love the uncertainty of the challenge. You never know what's going to happen. For me, you're competing with another human being who is trying to manipulate you, beat you up. We're not playing with specialized equipment -- not playing with a ball or anything like that -- it's one person against one person. There's a lot that just needs to get sorted out once that bell rings.
I was wrestling pretty much as soon as I could walk. With two older brothers, I was at wrestling practice at 3 years old. I was on the novice team at 4, and then I actually had some matches. We were always wrestling and being physical. My family had a mat in our basement. I was kind of bred for it.
Wrestling is one of those sports that people say develops character, but I think it shows character. To be a Division I wrestler, you have to be able to deal with the grind and be able to deal being banged up and sore and hurt, and still go out and competing and pushing yourself. I only wrestled one year in college, but I wrestled for a guy who is an Iowa wrestler. He wrestled for Dan Gable. That 'keep pushing until the other guy collapses' mentality is totally spread throughout college wrestling and even down to lower levels now. It just is the attitude that you have to have. You have to be able to go out and grind if need be. I think that translates very well to being an MMA fighter.
I saw the UFC when I was in seventh grade at wrestling camp. My coach brought a VHS tape of UFC III, and we watched it. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know any of the moves, but it just kind of stuck with me. As I got older, I went to college and wrestled a little bit at Virginia Tech. When I was back home, I was with my brother Dan and friends, and we would get the PPVs -- UFC or Pride -- and started falling in love with it. It took another two or three years to finally step through the doors of the first gym we trained at.
The first time I sparred with someone who has done it before, I felt like a bobblehead. After a couple of months of training, our coach asked Dan and I if we wanted to fight. We said, "Hell, yeah." The next Sunday we came in and sparred with a guy named Rich Attonito, who has fought in the UFC. He was going easy on us. It was definitely a memorable experience, just being completely outmatched. It hit me that I needed to learn this stuff right away.
Before my first professional fight, I didn't sleep for two months. I thought, "What the hell am I doing?" There was definitely a bit of uncertainty and nerves leading up to it. As soon as I had the contract in hand, I had butterflies for weeks.
The coolest thing about signing with the UFC was I was sitting at a desk with my brother Dan. We signed at the same time. When we were both coming up, I knew we would get there, and I knew we were both going to have the opportunity. It was inconceivable that it would happen at exactly the same time, and it did. It was probably one of the more special moments of my career.
My parents were nervous about it when we started. They definitely were uneasy. And then they saw the first grappling tournament we were in and realized, "Hey, they can actually do this pretty well." It was kind of a continuation of watching us wrestle. My mom gets pretty nervous. And so does my wife. But they are behind me 100 percent.
That first fight with Joe Lauzon, I have never been so tired. The stars kind of aligned for it to be a great fight. He's a supertough dude who is technical and dangerous. It was definitely one of those nights where I knew going in, it was going to be special. Joe and I have had conversations before, and we're cool with each other.
I've always said I'd fight my brother if the money was right. So going out there and fighting someone who I'm friendly with wasn't a problem. I still went out there and tried to beat him up as much as I could, while at the same time having a lot of respect for him.
Another memorable fight was against Dustin [Poirier]. My coach was just telling me the other day that when he went into the Octagon, he saw Joe Rogan's face. He said Rogan was making a face like when you're driving by a car accident and look, and then regret looking. It was a look of "Oh, my god, what happened?" We were both in the hospital together that night. Every fight is going to be painful some sort of way, but that one was particularly painful. You push it out of your mind and keep going.
I'm kind of made to take punishment. I've found my calling. Knock on wood, I've been pretty lucky with injuries. In that fight against Dustin, I sprained my MCL. My knee buckled, and I slid and peeled all the skin off my leg. I tore my extensor in my right ankle against Nate Diaz. I broke my nose against Gray Maynard. I've definitely dealt with the nagging things, the bumps and bruises, and sure as hell have fought injured before, but I've done pretty good when it comes to that stuff. And I want to keep it that way.
One thing that worries me is the IV ban. I'd rather fight knowing that I'm far more hydrated -- and my brain is far more hydrated -- and capable of taking a little more punishment than not having that opportunity. That is more of a worry to me.
I'd like no weight classes. If you agree to fight each other, let's fight. I'd easily fight someone who walks around at 200 pounds or more if I can step in there hydrating and feeling normal.
Once I'm making the walk to the Octagon, there are no nerves. Then it's showtime. But in the back, you're always fired up and nervous. There's always something. I don't want that to go away. If there's no uncertainty, I probably don't have enough invested in the sport. Then I'm kind of just there and being part of it and not really going after it. There definitely are nerves, and they are welcomed.
The year 2015 was really difficult on me, and I was close to hanging them up. Fortunately, I got things sorted out, and I feel a lot better than I did a few years ago. I know as a lightweight, when you start pushing your 40s, it's going to be tough because speed is such a large part of the game for smaller guys. I just turned 34. I have a couple more good years, and I'm going to make the most of it.