Jason "Mayhem" Miller was surprised by the reaction he received when he walked into the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 12 during a prelim fight ahead of the UFC's Fox debut.
"I got a roaring ovation, which really shocked me," said Miller, who coached the recently concluded season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show. "So I have to thank 'The Ultimate Fighter' show for putting me on that platform as far as UFC fans knowing who I am."
A little later in the night, during a hot fight between Dustin Poirier and Pablo Garza, loud boos cascaded through the building.
"From the other side of the building I heard a roar of boos," Miller said. "I was surprised because the fight was exciting, and I was thinking, 'Why is everyone booing?' I said to my manager, jokingly, '[Michael] Bisping must have walked in.' Then I got a text from someone in the building and that's actually what happened."
If the reaction in Anaheim was any indication, there should be strong interest when Miller (24-7) faces Bisping (24-3) in a battle of "The Ultimate Fighter" coaches on Saturday night's finale from The Pearl at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas. After a nearly seven-year run that put the UFC on the map, the organization's final full fight card on Spike TV will feature the five-round bout as the main event.
Miller has generated a variety of reactions from others in his colorful career. Because of his outrageous personality, which landed him the hosting role on MTV's "Bully Beatdown" for three seasons and led to the "TUF" coaching gig, some fans like him and some don't.
But Saturday night, in his first UFC fight since spring 2005, Miller has the chance to make himself an instant favorite if he can wipe the often-cocky smile off Bisping's face.
"You always need a good guy/bad guy dynamic, but this time, I get to be the good guy," Miller said. "So in that one way, I appreciate him being a loudmouth [expletive]."
Miller said he's watched Bisping for years, because they were in the same weight class, and fighting him was always in the back of his mind.
"I had no personal feelings for him at the start of the show, but I had personal feelings about him as a fighter," Miller said. "I knew from watching his fights than I could beat him. I've watched his fights for a long time. He's gotten a lot of recognition for doing a job that I can do better. But in the show, he earned his way into the [expletive] Hall of Fame.
"The first week or two, he showed little hints of his arrogance and his selfishness, but as the weeks rolled on, he showed how immature and selfish he was. He's not a good person. All that backlash of hate against him is well deserved."
Bisping was constantly needling Miller throughout the taping, even when Miller's fighters got on an early winning streak. There were constant pranks, both good- and bad-natured.
" 'Bully Beatdown' taught me one lesson about reality television – if you give it to them, they can use it," Miller said. "Bisping's been complaining about the editing of the show making him look like a jerk. No, you were a jerk and they showed it. You did it. They put it on TV. It's easier when you're not a complete tool to not mess up on TV."
"The thing about the show is that the reality show painted a picture of Michael Bisping that is fairly accurate as to who he really is," said Miller, who had six straight weeks of minor and major conflicts with his British rival while filming the series over the summer. "That gave me a lot of motivation to train really hard because I can't wait to kick his ass on Saturday night, not just for me, not just for my family, but for everyone on the planet."
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He said his dislike for Bisping is serious and real enough that at another time in his career, it could have been a detriment.
"Honestly, when I was younger, it would have been more of a problem," he said. "Recently I heard a Laotian proverb, 'Don't fight with anger, fight with music.' That's beautiful. I'm going to fight with music."
Harmony aside, the fight is more than just a UFC return for Miller, whose lone fight in the organization was an April 2005 decision loss to Georges St. Pierre at welterweight. It's also a chance to get back at detractors.
Miller became the center of controversy after he went into the cage without authorization and issued a challenge to Jake Shields on April 17, 2010, during a live CBS broadcast of a Strikeforce show in Nashville. Shields' teammates, including Gilbert Melendez and Nick and Nate Diaz, responded by attacking Miller. The impromptu brawl kicked off a chain reaction. CBS decided against airing future Strikeforce events. The loss of that coverage was likely at least a small factor in Strikeforce being sold to UFC this year. Everyone involved in the brawl was fined and suspended for three months. Showtime, Strikeforce's other television partner, decided it would not allow Miller on its network.
Things looked bleak for Miller, since he was under contract to an organization whose television partner wouldn't televise him. He hasn't fought in the United States since. And while he was also a star in Japan, becoming the first person ever to submit legend Kazushi Sakuraba, the Japanese MMA market is drying up.
Miller's career was resurrected by "TUF," a spot he got after Nevada, where the show is filmed, wouldn't license Chael Sonnen as a second coach for the show because of his suspension in California.
"I tweeted, 'Hey, Dana [White], I'll do the show,' and suddenly, there I am," he said.
Miller goes into the fight as a 2-to-1 underdog. Fourteen of Miller's wins have come by submission. But Bisping has strong ground defense – in his last 11 fights, only two competitors have even had him in a position to try any kind of a threatening move.
The most notable aspect of Bisping's offensive game is his high-volume striking. His 4.48 significant strikes landed per minute ranks 11th in all-time UFC records, according to Rami Genauer of Fightmetric.com.
In an odd way, fan hatred toward Bisping has turned him an underrated fighter. No aspect of his game is truly scary, but he has durability and an ability to win close fights. He's overcome trouble in several ones to come back to win.
Bisping, who's fought 17 times in the UFC, has lost only three times in his career. He lost a competitive decision to Rashad Evans, one of the world's top light heavyweights. He lost a decision to Wanderlei Silva in a fight that he may have been ahead in going into the last minute. And the only time he's ever been stopped was the knockout heard round the world, from Dan Henderson's big roundhouse at UFC 100.
"I can beat this guy," Miller said. "His kickboxing is a point fighting style, not a knockout style. His grappling from his back is decent, but nothing to write home about. He's generally OK in every area. But without one sharp thing to fear in your tool kit, it's hard to be an awesome fighter, so I'm going to exploit him with mine."
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- Michael Bisping