Originally planning on working in construction, Miller transitioned to mixed martial arts alongside his brother Dan in 2005 and he's experienced tremendous success, culminating in a seven fight win streak which saw him knocking on the door for a title shot late last year.
The AMA Combat Club fighter's UFC lightweight championship aspirations were derailed after being upset by current number one contender Ben Henderson at UFC on Versus 6 this past August, but he's pressed on, undeterred.
Miller recently had an opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture as his nephew, Daniel James Miller Jr., who had been suffering from polycystic kidney disease (PKD), was in need of major help. Not only did Danny Jr. get the support he needed, but he's scheduled to have his major kidney transplant surgery just five days after his uncle fights Melvin Guillard this Friday night (January 20, 2012).
The New Jersey native spoke with MMAmania.com about his currently family situation, his tough defeat to Ben Henderson and hopefully getting back on track against Melvin Guillard in this exclusive interview.
See for yourself.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Since your last fight, you've actually had a new addition in the family. Has the newborn baby affected the training routine at all?
Jim Miller: Nope, not really. My daughter is young as well so they're close. It just takes a little bit more work getting them ready for daycare before I have training but I would never put a negative on my children. They're only a positive thing in all points.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Also on that point, I know your brother's son, Danny Jr., he's got a very important surgery scheduled just days after your upcoming fight. This isn't his first surgery, he's had some before, but is that kind of a thing in the back of your head coming in too?
Jim Miller: It is, but there's nothing I can do about it. It's one of those things, like five days after my fight he's having the kidney transplant. It's a serious surgery, but like I said, it's something where I've got no control over the situation so it's more just like, I've got to get by what I've got to get by on the 20th and then the focus shifts to the family and that's where I'm gonna have to be.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What was your reaction to the response from the MMA community, Dana White and everyone else to Danny Jr.'s issues?
Jim Miller: It was amazing. Really overwhelming and tough to put into words the amount of appreciation I feel and the things my family feels for everyone that's helped out and donated whether it's time or money, everything. It's, really, it's a special thing and the only thing I can think of is that I'm going to go in there on the 20th and try to put on a good show and give give the UFC and the fans what they came to see. That's honestly the only way I can repay that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do things like that, plus all the other things your brother's been through, do they kind of make you take a step back and look at the big picture a little bit?
Jim Miller: Yeah, it's always like that. We have a very close family and everything has always been very family oriented. As much as I love fighting and got into fighting because I enjoy it and that's truly what drives me when I step in there, that I find it fun and exciting, it's still a job. It's still just something I do to pay the bills and I would give it up in a heartbeat if I had to for my family or my nephew or any of them. It definitely varies that perspective and it's one aspect of my life that doesn't quite have the same weight as family.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's completely understandable, now going back to you, it came out recently that before your fight with Ben Henderson, you were dealing with mononucleosis. You even found out you had a kidney infection. I know you're not a guy who is all about excuses, otherwise this would have been out there much sooner, but do you feel like if some of those ailments hadn't been there, the fight could have been completely different?
Jim Miller: I try not to think about it like that. The way I look at it is, I should have adapted to it. I kind of felt something was wrong warming up. I was just getting really gassed out just moving around, warming up for the fight. I didn't really feel that rush of energy that I normally feel so I kind of knew that I wasn't 100 percent and I was stubborn and bullheaded and continued to try to fight the same way that I always fight and at first, I was like, "That's ok, that's a good thing. That's who I am and how I fight," but when I think about it more and more, I should have adapted to it, fought a little more to gain dominant position. I felt like I had a technical advantage over him. I was able to put him in danger quite a bit but not able to put a stamp on it. I feel like I should have adapted to it and changed the strategy of the fight and the style of my fighting accordingly to deal with it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You had multiple submission attempts in that fight and do you credit the fact that they didn't get finished to Henderson's toughness, his ability to not get submitted, or was it more of a lack of energy thing?
Jim Miller: He is a very tough kid to submit. He's flexible and tough and not getting freaked out from some close calls. The kneebar, I've never had one that deep that I didn't finish and he ended up getting out of it because I couldn't hold on with my arms anymore but I should have been able to use better technique. It was a whole bunch of things and the way he fought me definitely didn't help my situation either. He put on a hell of a show and kept the pace up and took advantage of it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Enough about Ben Henderson, let's talk about your upcoming fight. This is your first opportunity to headline a show. What are your thoughts about seeing your name at the top of the billboard for the first time?
Jim Miller: It's really exciting. It's pretty awesome. This will be my 24th fight and my 12th fight inside the Octagon so half of my career, I will have been fighting inside the Octagon and making that jump to being a main event is just awesome. It's where I know I can be, where I know I should be against an opponent that I know will be a tough fight and somebody I'm looking forward to fighting and testing myself against.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, your opponent, Melvin Guillard, he's near the top of the lightweight heap as well and is a guy that people were also considering to be in the title hunt just like yourself. Do you feel like with a victory in such a high profile headlining fight with the more exposure, that this is a quick way to get you right back into the hunt?
Jim Miller: I hope so. (laughs). It's a main event, high profile fight. We are both coming off losses, but we had good strings of wins before that and we're both capable of fighting and beating guys at the top of this division. I hope that if I pull off a win, I'm right back up where I was before August and that's what I want. I didn't want to drop down in the level of competition, like the tune-up fights to get back to my winning ways. I wanted to fight where I'm gonna be pushed against someone that has a name and everybody knows it's gonna be a tough fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Melvin actually went out and said that he thinks this fight is the number one contender fight at lightweight. Do you feel like he's exaggerating or that there's a possibility here?
Jim Miller: It's probably a little bit of exaggeration to that but we're both capable of beating anybody. I feel we're two of the most dangerous guys in the weight class so I think each one of us could need another win in there, another high profile good win to get that title shot but an impressive victory will get us right back to where we were so this is a good fight. We're both going to be very hungry.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In Melvin's last fight against Joe Lauzon, he got knocked down by a stiff jab and then Lauzon just pounced on him and got the tap. Do you feel like you represent a similar style, that that's something you could definitely pull off?
Jim Miller: Yeah, I hope so. (laughs) I'm going to come out there and fight aggressively and try to put the pressure on him. He's proven that he hits hard and it's a dangerous fight but he's also shown some weaknesses where I've had strengths so it's a different opponent, but the same fight. I'm looking to make him make mistakes and capitalize on them and really fight to my strengths.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've said that before about how his weaknesses match up to your strengths pretty well. Would you mind elaborating on that, or would that be giving away some of the gameplan?
Jim Miller: He's been submitted quite a few times and that's where I'm strong. That's no shocker. That's no new information. I'm looking to lock something up.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that you were 185 pounds in an interview last month and I remember your normal walk-around weight is about 177 pounds. Did you pack on a little extra muscle in a response to some of Ben Henderson's physicality?
Jim Miller: No, that was me putting on a bit of extra weight as sympathy weight for my wife being pregnant. (laughs) She had our second child and I put on a little weight after the last fight and wasn't really doing much after my son was born. I was kinda just helping out and babysitting and stuff like that. I wouldn't consider myself a small 155-er. I got up to like 180, 185-ish but usually that's not training. Once I start working out and getting in there, it drops off pretty quickly from there. I've got my diet down pretty good and I'm comfortable where my weight is and I'm just keeping on track. That's the work, making weight is the hard part.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I saw that you think Frankie Edgar is going to be able to retain his title at UFC 144. You've fought both Edgar and Henderson now, so what is it about Edgar that you feel will help him to overcome a stiff challenge like Ben Henderson?
Jim Miller: The kid fights up. He steps in there and he always shows up to fight. Even when things don't go his way for a little bit, he finds a way to get that moment to come back and do what he needs to do. He's a hell of a fighter and he's got a ton of heart. I had the opportunity to train with him in the past and he trains harder than anybody and just goes to work in there. It's fun watching him fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Say worst case scenario happens and Ben Henderson goes out and upsets Frankie for the title. That probably would hurt your chances for getting a title shot for quite a long time simply due to his recent victory over you. Gilbert Melendez had called out a lot of the UFC fighters to come over there because he can't come to the UFC. Would that ever be something that would cross your mind, to challenge for that title?
Jim Miller: I'd love the opportunity to fight Gil, but even though Zuffa owns Strikeforce, right now it's not the same market. The business aspects of it, I'd much rather be in the UFC. There's much better opportunities for sponsorship and stuff outside of fighting. It's a tough one. It would be fun once we can get all these fighters together and finally really prove who number one is because Gil is definitely going on a run here and proving he can beat top competition but I don't necessarily know how that top competition would stack up against the guys we have in the UFC lightweight division. It would be fun. It would definitely be a fun fight and a hell of a task.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I had a friend send me a hypothetical situation. You're a fighter that's got a reputation for being extremely tough, extremely durable. Do you feel like referees might tune into that? Like would they give you an extra opportunity to bounce back if you were in trouble?
Jim Miller: I don't know. I'm sure it has to play some part into some of their decisions knowing that somebody has come out of a bad spot or having that image of somebody getting knocked out kinda scary, like a really bad knockout, you might step in there a hair earlier on someone like that. I don't know. I'd have to ref a couple fights to really see. I'm sure it might have an effect on it. I don't really think that's a bad thing. You're kind of making those choices based on past experiences, past things you've seen with the fighters. That's a good question.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you're closing your eyes and visualizing success against Melvin Guillard, what are you picturing?
Jim Miller: I picture a good fight. I'm gonna be hunting for the subs and I see plenty of different ways that this fight ends but I don't really see it going the distance.
Jim would like to thank all his trainers and training partners. One of his wrestling coaches, Mike Gibbons had some heart trouble so he wants to send some love out to him. Hopefully he gets better and can get back on the mat soon and kick everyone's butts.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Do you agree with Miller that Melvin Guillard is a perfect stylistic match-up to showcase his strengths and get back into the title hunt? Will he put the "Young Assassin" to sleep on Friday night?
Special thanks to Ben Thapa for contributing a question to this interview.