Saturday’s UFC Vegas 40 event may have been lackluster, but there was still one lone bright spot for longtime fans of the sport: Jim Miller.
At the age of 38, Miller stole the show with his highlight-reel knockout of Erick Gonzalez just 14 seconds into the second round. The win capped off Miller’s 38th appearance inside the octagon — an all-time benchmark for the promotion — and extended Miller’s vast list of records. The 13-year UFC veteran also counts the most wins in UFC lightweight history (20), the second-most wins in UFC history (22), and the most submission wins in UFC lightweight division history (9) on his résumé, among several other historic marks.
Thirteen years to the day of his promotional debut at UFC 89, Miller joined The MMA Hour to discuss his victory and reflect on his historic run. And even he admitted that his younger self wouldn’t have believed had you told him in 2008 what was about to come.
“Not to this level,” Miller said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I knew that I would hang around. I knew that I could compete. But to really think about 38 fights, 13 years — I’d kind of planned on like, ‘Eh, I’ll try to get it all in, my whole career into like 10 years. Once I’m 34, I’ll be ready to get out.’ And it didn’t work out like that. So here we are and still plugging along.
“Who the hell knows [what I’d be doing otherwise]. I’ve enjoyed the ride. It’s had some ups and downs, but it’s an awesome way to make a living and I’ve been able to make a life out of it thus far, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Miller’s vicious knockout of Gonzalez snapped a two-fight skid for the New Jersey native. It also marked his return to action following a positive test for COVID-19 in September which forced Miller to withdraw from a planned bout against up-and-coming lightweight Nikolas Motta.
Miller said he was fortunate to only feel mild symptoms from his COVID-19 diagnosis and that he felt fight ready fairly quickly afterward, which why he was able to jump back into a short-notice booking against Gonzalez.
But perhaps the most impressive of all of his various UFC benchmarks was the fact that the Motta incident marked the first time in Miller’s lengthy octagon career that he’s even withdrawn from a fight at all.
“I’ve dealt with injuries. I’ve dealt with illnesses. And sometimes I rolled the dice and I lost and it was too much, or it just added an extra dynamic to the fight that I wasn’t able to overcome,” Miller said. “But yeah, I had one or two that I was like, ‘Maybe. Let’s see.’ Particularly my fight with Kamal Shalorus [in 2011] — I was banged up for six weeks leading up to that fight. My knee was the size of a grapefruit, a big grapefruit. I pulled my psoas muscle, which ... it’s torture, it’s basically torture to kind of get that worked on.
“It’s basically your tenderloin muscle so you have to go in through your abs and behind all your stomach and stuff like that — and intestines — to have somebody work on it, and that’s what I had to have done. So that’s a fight where I was very close to pulling out of that one. I ended up not and [ended up] having a great performance. There were some other ones that I wasn’t able to have that good of a performance, but I’m confident in my skill set. I’m confident in the fact that if I’m fighting my fight style, I can beat anyone.”
Although he’s no longer the top contender he once was, Miller continues to truck along just fine in the latter days of his UFC career. He’s won five of his last nine bouts and has finished every one of those victories, and has even picked up three more post-fight bonuses over that span.
Altogether, he’s a happy and successful veteran in a sport where not everyone who shares his kind of his mileage could say the same. He’s also unarguably one of the greatest lightweights to ever lace up a pair of UFC gloves.
That being said, Miller admitted Monday there is still one regret that bothers him about his run — and that’s the fact that, despite his successes, he’s never competed for a UFC title.
“A little bit,” Miller acknowledged when asked if it bugs him. “It does today. But it’s one of those things, this sport’s all about timing. You’ve got to get that opportunity when you’ve got the momentum and you’ve got everything going for you. And it’s not so much just to fight for the title — I know that I could’ve won the title. I know that I could’ve held the title. At that time, I was 9-1 in the UFC and there were guys getting title shots on less. It’s just the way that it worked out, and the way that I always looked at it was just that I’m going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep fighting whoever they put in front of me, because I was like, ‘Hey, I know that I can do this. I know that I can compete with the absolute best on the planet.’
“And it didn’t work out. But I wasn’t going to be one of those guys who sat around and waited and waited and waited and just didn’t want to fight unless it was for the title. Because the way I view it is that once you get [the belt], the excitement of it is that everybody’s going to want to fight you, so you’re going to have to fight off all comers no matter the skill set and the style of fight. You’re going to have to fight them all, so I figured why not get it out of the way before I had the title, and then once I had it, it’d be business as usual.”
Saturday’s performance was a clear indication that Miller remains a competitive lightweight at age 37, and he isn’t looking to retire anytime soon. But he’s also a realist and he does know that a Michael Bisping-esque late-career run to the belt likely isn’t in the cards.
Miller just wonders how things could’ve been different during his prime era in 2008-11 when he rattled off nine victories over his first 10 fights to start his UFC career.
“Unfortunately I fought a hammer in Benson [Henderson] and I was also dealing with some other bullsh*t that I didn’t really know [about] until fight night,” said Miller, who revealed he dealt with mononucleosis before the Henderson bout followed by a kidney infection.
“So it’s just one of those things. I’ve definitely improved since then, I’m a much more dangerous fighter, I’m much more well-rounded, I feel like my skill set is better, but I’m also a 38-year-old who’s been living this stuff, so the body’s a little bit more beat up today than it was 10 years ago. So it’s not as easy to always be ‘on’ like I was able to back in the day.”