Flashy. Outspoken. Controversial.
There are many words to describe UFC lightweight Jim Miller, but these are not among them. He's quite the opposite, really, climbing his way up the 155-pound ladder with workman-like precision, punching the time clock, dishing out beatdowns, collecting paychecks and then retreating quietly to his nest in northwest New Jersey.
Miller doesn't call out opponents, pine for title shots or rock the boat. He just accepts fights, even on short notice, against whoever the promotion selects and shows up wherever it schedules the event. And then, with the exception of a unanimous decision loss to Gray Maynard more than two years ago, he wins.
In fact, the AMA Fight Club-trained fighter has won 15 of his last 16 mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts and seven straight inside the Octagon, four of which he has ended early, finishing his opponents in impressive fashion. Miller was also able to register 10 UFC wins faster than anyone else in the promotion's history.
And he's proud that his was able to do it all the "Jim Miller Way."
"I've found my own way and that's just through winning," Miller told me in an exclusive interview for MMA Nation. "Some guys are in it just for big fights, the fame or the money, and most of them are the ones writing checks their butts can't cash. I'm not in this to look like a fool. I'm in it to compete. And I only know how to do that one way. It's the Jim Miller way."
Miller mixes strong wrestling, amazing endurance, relentless pressure and solid submission skills to punish his opponents. His hit list includes opponents who aren't necessarily the world's best, but are accomplished and talented nonetheless.
Not only did he recently deal Kamal Shalorus and Charles Oliveira their first career losses in back-to-back fights, but he finished them both, dashing the hopes of two promising division hopefuls ... at least in the short-term.
Sure, these two aren't ranked in the top 10, not now anyway, but that shouldn't cheapen his bid to be the next contender. Miller, the sixth-best lightweight in the world by USA TODAY / SB Nation Consensus MMA Rankings, would fight anyone put in front of him.
Certain situations and scenarios, however, have steered him in different directions.
"Both of my most recent fights, Charles Oliveira and Kamal Shalorus, were against undefeated guys," he explained. "Some of the other possible contenders at the time were also busy with other fights, so it's just the way things have worked out for me.
"I want to fight the best guys, whether that's this weekend, next month or in a title fight," he continued. "I don't care how it happens or in what order. And the way that the lightweight division has worked out the last two years, with Frankie Edgar, B.J. Penn and now Gray Maynard getting all the rematches, this is just the way that it worked out for me. All I can do is train and be ready for when my number is called."
Company president Dana White and his matchmaker, Joe Silva, once again called on Miller to compete at UFC on Versus 5, which is scheduled to take place at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisc., this Sunday night (Aug. 14, 2011). He is booked to battle Ben Henderson, a former WEC champion and UFC newcomer who is looking to make his mark with a big win over an established 155-pound force.
Miller has other plans.
"This has the potential to be a really great fight and there is a lot on the line," he said. "I think that I match up real well with Ben and that we have the ability to really push one another. It does have the potential to be an amazing fight, but that's not what I'm looking for -- I'm going in there to blow him out."
Many fans, including this one, were puzzled when the welterweight fight between Dan Hardy, loser of three consecutive bouts, and Chris Lytle, who is also coming off a loss, was announced as the main event of the evening. The long-term ramifications of that fight pale in comparison to what's at stake when Miller and Henderson collide.
Unsurprisingly, the decision doesn't faze Miller.
"It doesn't necessarily bother me, but it definitely makes you wonder and question it," he said. "But that's not my job. My job is to go in there and fight. I'm not going to lie, it would definitely be nice to be the main event. I would have made more money with sponsorships (laughs), but other than that I don't let stuff like that bother me."
What would really bother him, however, would be a loss to "Smooth" on Sunday. Miller has worked too hard for too long to let a fresh face steal his thunder. He is aware that he is close to that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a title shot, and with another impressive performance, he may just finally earn it.
And he doesn't intend to tinker with the formula that has gotten him to this point. Not now, perhaps never. Miller plans to do what has gotten him this far, regardless of what Henderson brings to the table and what a win over him might mean moving forward.
"Ben is very well rounded," he said. "I think we mirror each other quite a bit. He is dangerous with submissions and he's also a pretty damn good striker. So, I'm just going to do what I always do: Go in there, push the pace and throw everything I have at him and see what happens."
Emphasis on "see what happens."
Miller acknowledged that after this weekend he intends to uncharacteristically sit back and see how the rest of the division unfolds. Specifically, he's keeping his eye on two fights -- Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard and Melvin Guillard vs. Joe Lauzon -- at UFC 136 on Oct. 8, 2011, in Houston, Texas.
He'd jump at the chance to rematch either Edgar or Mayanrd, especially for a world championship, but he's not counting any chickens before they hatch. Miller isn't even certain that a win on Sunday would seals his top contender status.
"Well, a win over Ben would give me eight wins in a row," he said. "I don't know if anyone else can say that. I would certainly hope that I would be considered the top guy. But, things are always changing. We'll see on Sunday. And from there we'll just keep our eyes on a couple of fights."
He didn't completely rule out the possibility of taking a fight sooner if the opportunity emerged ... even if it meant putting his status in the division at stake.
Miller is obsessed with competition. Even when he's not preparing for a fight he needs to keep himself busy, whether it's remodeling his kitchen or brewing beer in his basement. For him, he'd much rather satisfy his urge than wait around and hope that all the pieces to his championship puzzle fall in place.
"It's a competition thing," he explained. "I fight because I love it. I enjoy it. Last year I had four fights, which turned out real good for me. I just like to fight and stay active. However, it's not who I am or what I'm going to do for the rest of my life."
Indeed, Miller realizes his window as a fighter, relatively speaking, is small. And he intends to make the most of it before it passes him by. He's got a life, a wife and a growing family that depends on him to provide, whether it's inside a cage or elsewhere.
Added pressure, which once again, is seemingly unable to penetrate Miller's mental force field.
"I think [my self awareness] helps me out a lot, keeps me grounded," he said. That really helps me when I'm fighting -- I'm doing it because I want to, not because I think it's the only way I can provide for my family. Sure, there is pressure to provide, but not on fight night. The real pressure is in training. I can't get hurt in training because if I can't train, I can't fight. And if I can't fight, I don't get paid. It's just a matter of being intelligent and making sure that I'm smart about my training and my fight career. Everything else I can't control."
Efficient. Humble. Effective.
It's the Jim Miller way.