It was a jarring admission for a post-fight press conference, a fighter alluding with a laugh to an attempted murder charge.
“He heard about some legal trouble I was in, and he said, ‘Hey, did you really try to do that to that guy?’” Juliana Miller said about her MMA coach. “I said, ‘Absolutely, and I would try to kill him again.’ He said, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a world champion, and your nickname is, ‘Attempted Killer Miller.’
“As I went pro, people kept asking me, ‘Who’d you try to kill,’ and I was like, ‘Mmm, eff that person,’ so now I’m just a killer, and all of that is history.”
Juliana Miller had just won The Ultimate Fighter 30 and was as happy as you’d expect after six weeks in near-isolation that led to a UFC contract. The admission suggested an even darker past than the one she described on the show.
There are definitely some skeletons, Miller explained this past week on The MMA Hour. None of them, however, are of the variety that might lead to an extended stay in state prison. The reference simply marks the time she said enough is enough and learned how to fight back.
Then, she was dubbed an “amateur killer” for the time she didn’t fight back and lost quite physically to an abusive partner.
Now, she is a full-fledged killer. But to be clear, not the kind you’d meet on the street — one you’d be unfortunate to face in the octagon, where she’s headed full-time after stopping Brogan Walker on the TUF 30 finale at UFC Vegas 59.
For Miller, it comes down to a simple truth.
“If we’re in a cage, I’m going to try to kill you,” she said. “If it’s kill or be killed, I’m going to go for it. I’m the kind of person where if there’s a bear in my face, I’m not going to turn and run and let the bear and grab me in the back and bite my head off. I would rather stand up to this bear, face-to-face, and say ‘bring it,’ and shoot my shot and go for it as opposed to kind of running away.
“I do not live my life in fear, so they’re like, ‘Oh, careful with her, she’ll try to kill you.’ So in my amateur career, I was the ‘attempted killer,’ and upon being 90 percent finishes, my coaches were like, ‘Yeah, you’re the killer now.’”
“They” is the coaching staff that turned her from a depressed, angry 20-something into a professional MMA fighter. She invited her main coach, Manolo Hernandez of San Diego’s Team Hurricane Awesome, onstage at UFC Vegas 59 as she attempted to explain her nickname — and left at least a few folks, this reporter included, scratching their heads.
On the show, Miller said she’d started fighting because she’d grown up in a violent household, faced her abusive relationship, and wanted to fight back “without getting arrested.”
“What I said at the end of my fight was mostly just a joke,” she said. “No big connections. I’m not really ready to speak too much into that story. Upon the application for Ultimate Fighter, they did background checks, so I had to fully disclose things about my past that now, I just believe are unimportant.
“I think self-defense is the most important, but to open the can of worms of all that, I’m not really prepared for it yet, because honestly, I want to make everything about me [instead of] about something that I went through with somebody else.
“So yeah, it was just a joke that probably wasn’t too funny that I realize now. You can’t joke about that, so here we are now.”
All Miller will say about that moment in her life is that it permanently changed her, taught her about her resiliency, and gave her a passion and a purpose in life.
“I was not in a good relationship and there was an altercation, and I just didn’t know how to defend myself, period,” she said. “There was definitely in that time ... we were all just little raver kids, and we were drinking, people were under the influence, and as many people know, most of domestic violence situations comes from somebody that you know — obviously, it’s personal. And most of the time, it’s because of chemicals; people are not acting themselves because they’re drunk, they’re blacked out, whatever.
“So it was just my first-ever altercation, I did not defend myself, and I remember I was like, ‘Nobody’s ever going to touch me like this again.’”
Miller has made peace with her family after a “roller-coaster” childhood of poverty and violence inside and outside the house. She’s become a self-defense teacher for kids and women. She’s put herself on the path to becoming a UFC champion, even though there’s still a long ways to go on that front.
If Miller has any message for those who’ve watched her journey on the show, it’s that they shouldn’t recoil from traumatic moments but lean into them.
And, of course, to fight back. No one should push you around without an answer.
“I don’t care if I’m in a fight with somebody — for you to get your arms around my neck and squeeze is going to be a very difficult task, because I’ve spent my life training for these situations, especially going back to my youth,” she said. “Twelve years ago, I was a nobody on a couch, crying all day, every day, super depressed, no idea where my life was going to be. For me to pick myself up, get my head on straight, say, ‘I’m going to do something with my life,’ really means that if I can do it, anyone can.
“As embarrassing as it is, I’m proud of all the things I’ve overcome. You really can overcome a lot and be a spirit that people will look up to.”