Cole Miller isn’t exactly a gatekeeper in the featherweight division…but he does have what Joe Warren might call that unmistakable "veteranism," and he does have incredible staying power in the UFC (in spite of outward appearances). Miller has fought 15 times in the Octagon since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter 5. He’s gone 9-6 in that time which, when you think about it, is a pretty incredible feat.
For a guy like Sam Sicilia, who was a contestant on TUF 15 (the "live" version), beating a guy like Miller means something. Miller represents vertical movement. He’s not so much a gatekeeper as he is a director of echelons.
Sicilia will try his hand against Miller Jan. 15 at UFC Fight Night 35 in Duluth, Ga.
"I just beat up Pepey [Godofredo Castro] pretty quick, and I asked for a step up in competition and I got my wish," Sicilia says. "Cole’s a veteran. He’s been around. He fought guys like Ross Pearson and Jeremy Stephens, guys he’s fought that I’m similar too. He’s not going to be intimidated. He’s got a lot of decision wins and losses, but he knows how to hang in there. I wouldn’t say he’s a killer by any means. It looks like he has been getting better. His fights are a little more exciting. It looks like he’s having fun again. I’ll try and go in there and get after him, and not let him set up."
Sicilia, who trains with Michael Chiesa in Washington, knocked out Pepey in just a 1:42 on the first round. It was enough to raise the eyebrows of matchmaker Sean Shelby and give the Sikjitsu fighter a hike up in competition. In his featherweight debut, back in October of 2012, he lost to Rony Jason via a sally of punches. The one thing you know about the 27-year old fighter Sicilia is he likes to crack. But he doesn’t necessarily go in for volume.
Sicilia has one-punch, drape-closing power.
And after plying as an undersized 155-pounder, Sicilia does carry intrigue as a featherweight -- in part because of those heavy hands. Getting down the speed and cadences of the smaller class took a little adjustment period, he says. Yet, if his fight with Pepey is an indication, he’s getting more comfortable in the smaller frame by the minute.
"It took a little adapting to get used to it," he says. "In the UFC you’ve got nothing but elite guys, so it took a little adapting but I feel at home now. I’ve got the weight cutting down to a science. All these 55ers have giant frames, especially in the UFC, so it was the right move."
And there’s some good fight game audacity in play, too. The word being whispered Sicilia’s camp is that he’s a Johny Hendricks figure in the 145-pound mold. Does he believe that?
"For sure I believe that," he says. "It took a little bit of growing up in the sport. I’ve never trained in any elite wrestling like Johny. My lessons I had to learn on the main stage against Maximo [Blanco] and Rony. I got it down now, and you go out there to go three rounds, yet if you get an opportunity then you tear into it. I can end the fight with one punch, which is pretty rare at 145. These guys are pretty quick too, so you’ve got to get that down. But I could starch any of these guys, I’ve just got to land. Half of it’s just balls, throwing that hard."
"Magrinho," as Miller is called at American Top Team, hasn’t been KO’d since a run in with Efrain Escudero at UFC 103 in 2009. He’s been durable and very difficult to vanquish for a long time. Nor has Miller knocked anybody out since his UFC debut against Andy Wang. He’s a submission specialist who likes to stick his nose in there and mix it up.
He has a chin, but Sicilia says it won’t hold up to a well-timed, particularly insistent right hand. And it’s that panache/power that will get him off the Internet portion of the prelims, and into the high-def experience of the televised main card, as he will be on Wednesday night.
"I could knock out any 145er," he says. "You know, Cole’s a guy I’ve got to get past to get better fights, to stay on the main card and get off that Facebook s---.
"I’ve always had power, but now I’ve added a little bit of precision, a lot of level changes. Being dangerous in other aspects opens that up too. And the submissions I got were against guys who were half KO’d, all googly-eyed and sticking their neck out there because they wanted out. By no means were they slick submissions. With knockouts, you never really get content with it but the feeling of having the referee pull you off a guy like he’s saving their life is pretty rad. It’s something you train for."