This past Fourth of July weekend was particularly good to Pat Miletich. The pioneer coach and the UFC's first welterweight champion became the twelfth man to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, marking a moment that few ever thought possible considering Miletich's penchant over the years for butting heads with promotion president Dana White.
Now 48 years old, Miletich's list of accomplishments are expansive, from his UFC 16 tournament run and four consecutive welterweight title defenses, to his heyday pumping out champion after champion from his quiet little gym in Bettendorf, Iowa. On Tuesday, Miletich appeared on The MMA Hour, where he reflected back on his favorite moments of the two-decade long ride.
"I remember winning the UFC tournament," the Hall of Famer told host Ariel Helwani. "And that was obviously the goal, was to get into the UFC when I first started fighting, winning the tournament, coming out and having people ask me to sign autographs for them. I remember signing my first autograph after I won the tournament while walking back to the locker room, and actually a teardrop fell on the paper. That's the one thing I remember. A teardrop fell on my signature while I was writing it, and I was like... wow.
"It was a nice dream realized," Miletich continued. "But I'll tell you what, you talk about tears coming to your eyes? Jens Pulver, Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia, Dave Menne, those guys winning and stuff like that, so many other guys winning big fights, it's kind of hard to explain the joy that you get out of coaching a guy to a world title and seeing them change their lives.
"When that whole group was assembled and fighting in the same room, training together, it was just one big, angry family."
In its apex, from 2001 to 2003, Miletich Fighting Systems (MFS) had three UFC titleholders to call its own: Sylvia, the most unlikely of heavyweight champions; Hughes, considered by many to be one of the two greatest welterweights to ever compete; and Pulver, the ferocious lightweight trailblazer whose own retirement coincided with Miletich's Hall of Fame induction.
"You talk about butting heads? Jensy, he was ornery and had a mind of his own, I can tell you that," Miletich said of his former student. "When we were younger, he was a blast to have in the gym because of his intensity. But he had no problem yelling at anybody. He had no problem telling a heavyweight that he was going to beat the hell out of them if they didn't do what we were telling them to do.
"Gosh, probably my favorite Jens Pulver moment was when (6-foot-3, 205-pound) Sam Hoger had been at the gym training all day. He had not trained with the team; he'd been there training all day though and had not been in practice for a little while. He was kind of doing his own thing. And Sam Hoger put his equipment in his bag as all the fighters were getting ready to spar. Jens screamed at him, ‘where the hell are you going?' as he was walking out, and he said, ‘I'm going home.' Jens said, ‘No, you're not. Put your bag down and get back in here and train with the team.'
"Sam didn't quite understand the concept at the time of what Jens was saying. Jens was saying no, you haven't been training because you haven't been training with us, and Jens was trying to help him understand the team aspect, that if you're going to train here, you need to train with the team all the time. And Sam said, ‘No, I'm leaving, I'm going home.' Jens ran over to him, ripped his boxing gloves off, went chest-to-chest with Sam, looked up at Sam and said, ‘You either put your equipment on right now or I'm going to knock you out where you stand.' So Sam looked around the room and I said, ‘Your decision, Sam. Go ahead and make it.' And Sam put his gloves on and stayed, and from then on Sam trained with the team."
While the glory days of MFS may now be behind Miletich, he still remains active in the sport, serving as both a weekly color commentator for AXSTV events as well as a self-defense trainer for law enforcement and military personnel. So even in retirement, the thrill of the fight is never far off.
"I'm very thankful for the life I've led," Miletich said. "And I'm very thankful for the great things that have happened to me. I guess it's nice to have your name etched in history, either way. So hopefully 100 years from now, somebody will come across my name and go, hey, that guy must have been a pretty tough guy."