Jim Miller is spending this holiday season over 2,500 miles away from family and friends.
The UFC lightweight fights three nights from now at UFC 168 in Vegas. But Nevada isn’t where Miller (Twitter: @JimMiller_155) calls home; that honor’s reserved for New Jersey. Given he’s cross-country this year, Miller’s thus grappling with two challenges before Saturday’s battle – defeating his next opponent and isolation from his loved ones.
“I’ve fought around New Year’s in Las Vegas before and it’s quite the atmosphere,” the 22-4 (1) MMA veteran said on MMADiehards’ Dec. 9 MMA Cypher Radio. “It’s always crowded. It’s crazy even before Christmas and New Year’s Day.”
Such endless neon lights and tireless nightlife couldn’t differ more from Miller’s current residence in Whippany, N.J. The pro athlete lives and trains there, honing his skills at AMA Fight Club before coming home to his wife of over five years and their two daughters. Jersey isn’t just a line on Miller’s income tax forms, however – it’s the springboard which launched him into the Octagon.
“I feel that one of the reasons I am where I am and can succeed at the highest level is from fighting in New Jersey,” said Miller, a native of Sparta Township, N.J. “Coming up under the athletic commission here, my fights made sense and were against guys at an equal level. It really helped me.”
Miller entered professional MMA at Reality Fighting 10 in November 2005. Facing Eddie Fyvie in Atlantic City, he won his debut via unanimous decision. Repeatedly ranked among MMA’s top ten lightweights since, Miller’s success is a testament to New Jersey’s vibrant fight game. In addition to Miller and his older brother Dan, the state has helped toughen such MMA standouts as former UFC lightweight champion Frankie “The Answer” Edgar and current middleweight kingpin Chris Weidman.
“You see guys coming in with padded records and they don’t do so well when they get to the highest levels,” Miller said of elite MMA. “You need to build experience and comfort in big fights.”
“Our athletic commission here always had fights pushing me to evolve to that next level,” he continued. “You had the right path. You were nurtured when you needed to be nurtured and pushed when you needed to be pushed.”
Garden State combat sports forged Miller into the well-rounded threat he presents today. Come Saturday, he’ll need every weapon in his arsenal against Fabricio “Morangò” Camões. The 14-7-1 Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist is feared for his craftiness and airtight submission holds.
“I’m always looking for the toughest opponent and Camões is a very tough opponent,” Miller admitted. “He’s very experienced and has been around for awhile.”
Chief among Camões’ attacks are suffocating, vice-like chokes. They’re a daunting obstacle for Miller, who’s fallen to similar holds in two of his last three fights. Though one of those – an April tilt at UFC 159 where Pat “Bam Bam” Healy won the bout, but then lost a post-fight drug test – was later ruled a no contest, Miller’s eager to prove submissions aren’t a weakness.
“A few guys have submitted me recently and they earned it,” Miller confessed. “I game-plan a little bit but I try not to focus on anything too specifically for any of my opponents. My main goal is to show up physically prepared and ready for a hard fight.”
New Jersey is already celebrating Miller’s performance regardless of Saturday’s outcome. Its Martial Arts Hall of Fame selected him as one of its 2013 inductees. One of 2012′s inaugural members – Mike Constantino – also trains Miller at AMA Fight Club.
“It’s a great honor and pretty cool,” Miller said of his award. “I just got notice in the mail a few months ago that I’m this year’s male MMA Fighter of the Year.”
It’s an honor he isn’t taking lightly. Much like the warriors of old, mixed martial artists defend their kingdoms every time they battle. Miller’s no different, and the Jersey native hopes he’ll do right by his birthplace Saturday night. For now, he’s feeling dangerous before showtime in Vegas, nearly a continent away from home.
“My time off recently was to try and fix some of the health problems I’ve been having,” Miller said of a nagging shoulder injury. “It’s given me time to heal up and it actually worked. I feel better than I have in a year.”