The last man to hold the International Fight League (IFL) middleweight strap, Dan Miller (11-2, 1 No Contest), has something to prove when he steps into the Octagon this Saturday night at UFC 109: "Relentless."
For just the second time in his career, Miller will be coming off a loss — this one to noted wrestler Chael Sonnen. And for the first time in his career, Miller will be entering the cage a newly anointed Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, under Renzo Gracie black belt Jamie Cruz.
Miller has his eyes set on victory come Saturday, which is made an even bigger challenge by the respect he has for his opponent, one of the most dangerous BJJ black belts in the game today, Demian Maia (11-1).
Miller — who holds UFC wins over Jake Rosholt, Matt Horwich and Rob Kimmons — admits that he’s never faced a jiu-jitsu practitioner quite as talented as Maia, who’s own submission wins over UFC veterans Sonnen, Nate Quarry, Jason MacDonald, Ed Herman and Ryan Jensen earned him four "Submission of the Night" honors.
But don’t think for a second that that’s going to keep Miller from taking the fight to Maia. When we recently caught up with the AMA Fight Club phenom, he said he’s fully prepared to try and force Maia to fight his fight. Whether that’s on the ground or on the feet, Miller’s just not sure yet, stating that it depends on how he feels when he’s inside the cage with the Brazilian.
One thing’s for sure, though, don’t expect this fight to go all three rounds. Someone’s going night night. Let’s hear what Miller has to say about it:
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You recently received your black belt from Jamie Cruz, himself a Renzo Gracie black belt. How did it feel to achieve such a milestone, and is it made sweeter in that you’re part of a long lineage of jiu-jitsu practitioners.
Dan Miller: Yeah, I’m very proud to get my jiu-jitsu black belt, especially under Jamie. I think he’s one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu coaches out there. I really look up to him. He’s phenomenal, he kicks my ass. So it’s one of the things — I really enjoy training under him. I’m happy to get it from him.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You last fought Chael Sonnen to a unanimous decision — unfortunately it was a loss for you. It was only your second loss and the first since April 2006. When you have such a hot streak going, does that make recovering from a loss any more difficult, or is a loss a loss?
Dan Miller: Oh, a loss is a loss. I think (even) if I had lost twice in a row, a loss is a loss. It still makes it difficult. But again, I feel that a loss makes you better, and it’s part of the sport. Somebody has to lose when you enter that cage. It’s just something that happens. You have to learn from it and get better from it. You can’t just say, "Oh, I lost" and not get better. You have to better yourself from that. And I think I have.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Sonnen is a world-class wrestler, a two-time national champion and NCAA All-American. What do you take away from that fight? What did you learn from that loss?
Dan Miller: It was one of those things where I don’t think I had the best training camp. To take nothing away from Chael, he came in and just beat the crap outta me. There really wasn’t much that I could do in that fight.
But I think it was my training camp. I improved it. My coaches set up a phenomenal training camp for this (upcoming) fight. I’m training better, smarter … everything. I think it’s going to show.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Sonnen was a late replacement for Yushin Okami. I think he took the fight on like 22 days notice. That doesn’t give you a heck of a lot of time to prepare when your opponent changes. How does a late replacement affect your training when it comes that late in your preparation?
Dan Miller: I don’t think it affected it that much for that fight. You know, it does (generally). But for that fight, those two guys are very similar in what they do. They’re both good wrestlers, they both like the top game. They both have good standup — not great. So it didn’t really change it up that much … other than I think … wait, is Okami a lefty or righty? I can’t remember (laughs).
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Both Okami and Sonnen are southpaws, I believe.
Dan Miller: It was a long time ago (laughs). But yeah, it didn’t really change that much for that fight. I can’t remember the question.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): I think you already answered it pretty well. You’re now facing Demian Maia, one of the most decorated submission fighters in mixed martial arts. This is a very dangerous guy with four "Submission of the Night" honors to his credit in just six UFC fights. You yourself have seven wins by way of submission. How do you prepare for a guy like this — one who is clearly more dangerous on the ground than he is on his feet? Despite your comfort level on the ground, do you avoid playing to his strength?
Dan Miller: It’s tough to say. It all depends on how it plays out, I don’t really know. My game plan is just to implement my fight strategy. I’m going to go in there and I’m going to make him fight my fight. If it happens to be on the feet, then that’s what’s going to have to happen. I’m going to have to keep it on my feet and use my wrestling and my strikes to keep him away. But if I feel comfortable on the ground — which I don’t know yet, you know I’ve never faced somebody that good in the ring. I think it’s one of my first times facing a jiu-jitsu guy who’s that good. So I really don’t know. I don’t know how the fight’s gonna play out. If I go to the ground and I feel in danger, then yeah, I’m going to have to stay away from it, use my wrestling and keep him away. But if I feel comfortable throwing punches from the top and punches and elbows and stuff like that, and I feel comfortable with my ground and pound, I might stay there.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Obviously Nate Marquardt quickly exposed a weakness in Maia’s game with the 21-second KO. Unfortunately the fight didn’t last long enough for you to take much from the fight in terms of watching tape or anything. How much time did you or your trainers spend watching tape of Maia, and do you think you’ve found some weaknesses in his game?
Dan Miller: My trainers, they watch it every day. I think they watch tape every day. They study him a lot. Personally, I don’t watch film. I let them do that, I let them break it down. I don’t get into that whole thing of breaking down the film and strategizing. I let them do that. That’s what they’re here for. I know they’ve watched a lot of it. They pick out the weaknesses and we go over them. But also they pick out his strengths. They go in and look at where he’s very good, and we work in defenses for that too.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Between the two of you, your submission highlight reels are crazy. Maia’s subs of Jason MacDonald and Chael Sonnen were literally beautiful to watch. He’s just so fluid. Your guillotine of Dave Phillips is considered one of the nastiest, sickest guillotines in history. I actually watched it earlier this week. I literally thought you had broken the poor guy’s neck when his body went limp.
Dan Miller: (Laughs)
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): What can the fans expect to see at UFC 109? Do you think this fight has any chance of going to a decision?
Dan Miller: Again, I don’t know. I fight to finish guys. So I’m going to work for a finish, either a knockout or a submission. I hope (it doesn’t go to a decision). I hope it ends in a finish, in my favor, hopefully (laughs). I want to put on an exciting fight. So hopefully not. I hope it ends early.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You are now 3-1 in the UFC going into your second main card fight. How important is a win here, not only in terms of staying with the promotion, but also staying on the main cards?
Dan Miller: It’s very important just to get a win. I just have to get back on the winning track. I can’t have two losses in a row. That’s just not acceptable. It’s very important to get this win.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You and your brother, Jim, are known for taking fights at the drop of a hat and always bringing it. What’s it like having a brother fight in the same promotion as you, experiencing similar levels of success?
Dan Miller: It’s awesome. When he’s cornering me, he knows exactly what I’m going through, because he’s been there. And vice versa. When he’s in the ring, and I’m in his corner, I feel what he’s feeling, because I’ve been there. I’ve been in the Octagon, in the UFC, in high-pressure situations. I know exactly what he’s going through, so I can help him through that, in between rounds and before the fight and stuff like that. So it’s awesome. It’s a great feeling to have him in the UFC with me.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well, Dan, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing both you and Jim, and you guys seem like such good guys, really down to earth. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I’d also like to give you an opportunity to thank any sponsors or if you have any parting words for your fans.
Dan Miller: I just want to thank everybody who had a hand in this, everyone who was involved in helping me get ready. I want to thank my fans. Without them, I really wouldn’t be here. You need fans and you need people watching the sport, and I really appreciate it. So thanks everyone.