Miller faces tough fight with Henderson

Dave Meltzer
Yahoo! Sports
Miller faces tough fight with Henderson
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Jim Miller has won seven straight fights to put him in line for a possible title shot

In the early days of UFC, a colorful fighter named Tank Abbott marketed himself with the slogan, "Anyone, anytime, anywhere."

Abbott's motto was if someone asked him to fight, he was in, no matter the circumstances. While a lot of fighters publicly profess that sentiment, or – even in the case of Abbott – used it as a marketing gimmick, they usually sing a different tune in negotiations. It’s actually rare at the top level. Styles make fights, fighters want to compete in their peak condition, and, for a top fighter, a loss at the wrong time can derail his upward mobility and even end his career in the big leagues.

But if you talk to UFC officials, the Miller brothers (Jim and Dan) of Sparta, N.J., are the real deal. If the company is in a bind and needs a late replacement, no matter when the call is made, the answer is always going to be, "Yes."

"It really comes down to a confidence thing," said Jim Miller (20-2), who is riding a seven-fight winning streak, and is, on paper, the next guy in line for a UFC lightweight title shot at the winner of the Oct. 8 fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.

But it’s a shot Jim Miller is risking on Sunday when he faces former World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champion Ben Henderson (13-2) in UFC’s debut at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee in a show airing live on Versus.

"If I’m confident to take on a tough fight, I’ll take the fight," Jim Miller said. "A 15-minute fight really doesn’t come down to cardio. It comes down to will. You can push yourself through 15 minutes of anything. Fighting is what I enjoy. A short-notice fight, if I’m confident and comfortable, I can do it even if I haven’t been training for a fight.

"I feel I can beat anyone in the world, so I’m not going to turn down a fight with someone who isn’t the best in the world. Dan has a similar attitude. We both like to fight. And we don’t have a lot of opportunities to do it.

"You can fight three, maybe four times a year. So if you get a chance, why not do it?"

Some would choose to sit this one out, but with Miller – who last fought on March 19 – he was thinking it was already getting too long between fights.

"This is even a longer layoff than I like," he said. "I like to fight every three or four months. Longer than that, you may end up overtraining, or you take time off and fall out of shape and the first few weeks back suck. A longer layoff wouldn’t be very much fun."

Edgar and Maynard are also the only two fighters who have beaten Jim Miller, both by decision. Edgar won in 2006 before both were in the UFC, and Maynard in 2009.

"I think a lot about my fight with each of them," Miller said. "I learned from the mistakes I made in each of the fights. I think about how I would go about beating them in a rematch. I know I’m a much more dangerous grappler than either of them. I know I can sub either of them out. I had brief opportunities with both, but it was too little, too late. It’s about creating opportunities sooner."

Miller was put in the next top contender position by a fighter who was in the exact same circumstances, had the same mentality, and it cost him.

Anthony Pettis, who beat Henderson for the WEC belt, was promised the next shot at the UFC title back in December. When Edgar and Maynard had their draw on Jan. 1 and a rematch was ordered, Pettis could have waited.

Instead, he agreed to face Clay Guida on June 4, and lost the decision. That moved Miller up from second place in line.

"It went down pretty much as I expected it to," Miller said of the Guida-Pettis fight. "I knew Clay would be able to control Anthony on the ground and get him there. The lightweight division is controlled by the grapplers and the wrestlers, and I knew there was a hole in Anthony’s game, and it was a perfect display of exploiting weaknesses.

"It’s what MMA is designed to do. You have to be well-rounded and have all the tools. If someone is controlling you, you have to be able to deal with that and counter it and try and take them out."

Henderson is a genuine threat to do to Miller what Guida did to Pettis. He’s a good striker, strong wrestler and has a sick guillotine submission. His lone loss since the early days of his career was to Pettis in a close five-round fight that may not have been decided until the waning seconds. It was among the most memorable match finishes in history, of which Henderson was on the wrong end. Pettis hit the "Showtime kick," a move where he jumped up, kicked off the cage and landed what may have been the single-most spectacular knockdown kick ever on a nationally televised MMA show.

"He’s definitely got the guillotine, and he fights with some very talented guys," Jim Miller said. "I’m not planning on putting myself in bad situations. When he smells blood, he’ll get after it. He’s got that killer instinct. I have to keep my cool and not get too anxious and overextend myself. I think I can push the pace and create the openings I need."

Miller vs. Henderson is actually the co-main event on Sunday, a decision that has left a lot of people asking why. Miller, who comes in as a 3-to-2 favorite, would be No. 3 if there were actual official UFC rankings. Henderson may not get the next title shot with a win, but he would probably be one of the leading candidates along with Guida and Melvin Guillard.

The main event is instead Chris Lytle (30-18-5) against Dan Hardy (23-9, 1 no contest), two welterweights. Lytle is coming off a loss, while Hardy has suffered three straight losses. But Lytle and Hardy are both better-known names to television viewers, and Lytle has a reputation for putting on great fights, even if neither at this point are anywhere near the title picture.

But Miller cares little about the positioning of the fight.

"We still get to fight," he said. "I could have pulled more money from sponsors if I was in the main event, but other than that, it doesn’t really matter."

When it comes to Edgar vs. Maynard III, Miller is going with the fellow New Jersey fighter – Edgar.

"I think Frankie is going to outwork him and push the pace," Jim Miller said. "When Frankie gets going, he can outwrestle anybody. I don’t think he’s going to underestimate Gray’s power this time around. You can’t count Gray out. He’s got the capability to knock people out. But I think Frankie is going to stay tight and be a better fighter."

Miller noted that he's keeping a normal routine heading into Sunday's fight, a far cry from the emotional roller coaster he rode into his last fight on March 19. Miller and his brother, Dan, were fighting on the same show, and because Jim was in the swing bout, they didn’t know who was going first. As it turned out, Dan went first, and lost a decision to Nate Marquardt. That wasn’t the only thing on his mind. When Jim came to the news conference after finishing world class wrestler Kamal Shalorus, the first thing he said – his voice breaking up – was that the day would have been the birthday of his niece, Dan’s daughter, who died at birth.

"It’s tough," Jim Miller said. "I can focus pretty well and turn off everything, but your mind wanders and you start thinking about certain things – and that’s not what you want to be thinking about when somebody is going into the octagon trying to take your head off.

“Emotionally, it was a tough night. It was a tough day. Not only fighting back-to-back with Dan, which was extremely difficult. You just got to focus – that’s what it comes down to – on the task at hand. There is no changing what already happened, so just go out and do what you come there to do. Even having to sit while I’m warming up to see Dan in a tough fight and losing a decision, I still had to do my job. Nothing was going to change that.

"There was nothing I could do. Whatever else was going on that day, I had to step in a fight and turn that switch on. It’s not always easy to do that, but it’s just what we as fighters have to do – block everything else out and work."