After retiring almost eight years ago, feuding with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) head honcho Dana White, and working as a commentator for the organization's biggest competition (at the time), Pat Miletich is finally being inducted into UFC's Hall of Fame this weekend.
He must have done something well in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
Miletich's story is one of quiet accomplishment, built on the sturdy base of pure toughness. Early in his life, Miletich, like many young Iowans, stepped onto the wrestling mats for the first time. Even then, Miletich's gritty, hard-nosed work ethic lead him to have a successful scholastic career.
Though he planned to continue wrestling at junior college, his mother's medical issues caused him to drop out. In fact, the search for a way to pay medicals bills eventually lead to the "Croatian Sensation" strapping on a pair of four ounce gloves back in 1995.
As it turned out, Miletich -- who had amassed plenty of experience by bar fighting in the scrappy American midwest -- was pretty good at this fighting business. Already the owner of a Shuri-ryu karate black belt and a couple years of jiu-jitsu experience, Miletich was far ahead of the average "No Holds Barred" fighter.
He was a true mixed martial artist. One of the first, in fact.
On his first night as a professional, Miletich submitted three men in an open weight tournament. Despite being the smallest man of the eight, Miletich had few problems cutting through his opposition using his wrestling and submission skills.
Miletich competed in and won a couple more one night tournaments before transitioning to simply fighting frequently once per night. While he tore through the regional circuits, Miletich continued to develop his skills. After acquiring a record of 17-1-1 with 15 finishes, Miletich was finally recruited into the UFC in 1998.
Faced with another one night tournament, Miletich's conditioning once again pulled him through. A grueling decision victory over Townsend Saunders, an Olympic wrestling silver medalist, put Miletich into the finals against Chris Brennan, a man he had previously fought twice. After going 0-1-1 against Miletich, Brennan was anxious to get the win. However, it was not his night, as Miletich wore him down for an eventual submission victory via shoulder pressure to the neck.
Pat Miletich had won a UFC tournament, an impressive accomplishment for any fighter from that time period.
Unfortunately, this victory won Miletich neither fame nor riches. These fights, along with the rest of Miletich's career, took place during the UFC's "Dark Ages," in which the organization was losing money hand over fist due to a negative public perception of the sport as "human cockfighting."
Miletich returned to the regional scene and notably battle Dan Severn, the heavyweight, to a draw. However, Miletich's success in the "Lightweight" tournament was not forgotten, and when the organization formed a new welterweight championship, it offered him a chance to fight for the belt.
In his championship fight, Miletich fought a 21-minute wrestling match with Mikey Burnett. It was an even and, by most accounts, horribly dull match in which neither man took control. Regardless, Miletich was announced the winner via split decision. His first title defense went similarly, as Miletich controlled the explosive Jorge Patino -- who STILL fights for World Series of Fighting (WSOF) -- for a decision.
His first four fights inside the Octagon had won him very few fans.
In his next title defense, Miletich was paired off with a Brazilian submission specialist, Andre Pederneiras, the eventual head coach of Nova Uniao and trainer of athletes like Jose Aldo and Renan Barao. Flipping the script, Miletich decided the show off his diverse stand up skills -- by this time, Miletich had a karate black belt, Muay Thai fights, and a professional boxing match -- and finished "Dede" via a cut after a straight right hand counter landed in the second round.
In his next two bouts, Miletich returned to his grappling roots. After wearing through the defenses of John Alessio and Kenichi Yamamoto, the "Croation Sensation" submitted them with an armbar and guillotine, respectively. Despite his recent finishes, perfect (7-0) UFC record, and a record breaking number of title defenses, Miletich was not a fighter loved by fans.
It didn't help that so few people were able to see his fights.
In his fifth attempt at defending the title, Miletich faced off with Carlos Newton. After controlling the first two rounds and appearing to be the fresher fighter in the third, Miletich slipped up. A small mistake allowed Newton to trap Miletich's neck in a bulldog choke, and "The Ronin" squeezed until the belt was his.
Miletich looked to quickly work his way back to the title. As was written into his contract, all that was required for a rematch with the Canadian was a single win.
A win that Miletich violently earned when he head kicked Shonie Carter at UFC 32.
Despite his contract and win, Miletich did not receive his chance at redemption, largely due to poor timing. The event that Newton would next defend his title at, UFC 34, was headlined by the heavyweight title match up of Randy Couture vs Pedro Rizzo II.
Why was this a problem?
Because the event that Newton defeated Miletich at, UFC 31, was also headlined by Couture and Rizzo. Had the UFC matched up Miletich with Newton a second time, it would appear as an exact repeat of that event. To avoid this, UFC substituted Miletich with his protege, Matt Hughes.
The rest is history. There's a reason Hughes is also in the Hall of Fame, and it started with his brutal knockout slam of Carlos Newton at UFC 34.
Since Miletich was far from willing to fight his teammate and friend, he decided to move up a division to middleweight. In his sole match at that weight, an uninterested looking Miletich was quickly finished by Matt Lindland.
At this point, Miletich decided to take some time off from fighting to focus on coaching. During this time, Miletich guided Hughes, Jens Pulver and Tim Sylvia to UFC gold from a beaten up gym in Bettendorf, Iowa. The Miletich Fighting Systems (MFS) became famous as a hotbed for the toughest guys in the sport to beat each other bloody. It became the home of other notable fighters, like Spencer Fisher, Jeremy Horn and a certain top-ranked UFC welterweight named Robbie Lawler.
During this time, a miscommunication between Dana White and Miletich regarding his position as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 3 coach resulted in a feud that would last until, apparently, the last few months. Not only has the company's figurehead stated that Miletich is not a paranoid lunatic, but he has also signed his approval on Miletich's induction to the Hall of Fame.
This author believes it is much deserved.