For Ross Miller, the decision to take an amateur MMA fight was not something he took lightly.
A longtime fan of the sport with several years of training under his belt, Miller wasn't certain he had the skills necessary to be successful, but he wanted to test himself in actual competition.
Of course, at 36 years old and with a wife and three children, Miller knew he couldn't jump in the ring without their support. Oh, and he needed to fit the bout into his schedule as Nevada's secretary of state.
"I had been sparring quite a bit, and I guess when you're passionate enough about something, you eventually want to compete," Miller told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "But this is not a sport where you're delusional about your abilities. I never thought my skills were high enough to compete until about a year ago when I started exploring it seriously and training a little bit harder and getting ready. A few months ago I looked into taking an amateur bout."
Miller, whose father was Nevada's governor from 1989 to 1999, grew up as a combat-sports fan, and he decided a few years back to incorporate MMA training into his fitness routine.
"Years ago, I saw some guys training MMA at the gym," Miller said. "I was bored, sitting on the elliptical working out. I thought I'd give it a try.
"I was always a boxing and MMA fan. When my dad was governor, he used to appoint the athletic commission, so I grew up going to a lot of boxing matches and the like and became a UFC fan. I finally decided to try it one day. It just ignited an absolute passion."
That passion eventually led him to move past simple gym sparring sessions in hopes of taking an actual fight, which he did at this past weekend's World Fighting Championships (WFC) event in South Lake Tahoe, Nev., where the 6-foot-4 Miller competed as a light heavyweight against Jamal Williams.
"It was much different than sparring," Miller admitted. "I froze a little bit. I had a tough time letting my hands go. I didn't teep at all, which I usually do in sparring. I threw very few kicks. The gameplan was to set up a couple of punches and maybe a leg kick and take him down and try to submit him because he didn't appear to have much jiu-jitsu. That's not how the first round worked out at all.
"At the end of the first round, my cornerman came in, and I asked him, 'Where's the stool?' He said, 'There is no stool.' I said, 'You didn't think this was going to go to the second round?' He said, 'I think you just need to relax, breathe and start listening to us because you're scaring the hell out of us.'"
Miller settled down in the second round and scored a TKO victory.
"In the second round, we exchanged pretty heavily, and I got rocked pretty hard but recovered and finally landed a one-two (combination) and a kick to the body then a right hand that put him down," Miller said. "I finished with some ground and pound."
Miller, who will serve as Nevada's chief election officer in this year's impending elections, asked WFC promoter Matt McGovern not to promote the bout in order to avoid unnecessary attention to the contest. However, Miller said he wasn't trying to hide his passion for the sport or his fight. In fact, he's quite proud of his dedication to the craft.
"You always worry about the potential optics of competing in mixed martial arts because people may see it and assume you're a violent person," Miller said. "But that's not why I like the sport at all. It obviously is very physically challenging, but more than anything, when you train, you get beat up both physically and mentally on a regular basis, and you've got to have the mental strength and resilience to continue to fight through. Your mind will give you a million reasons to quit, but you have to push through it and fight to overcome it, and that's why I love the sport."
While Miller said there was no political motivation behind his appearance, he said he did find a use for his newfound platform.
"They gave me the microphone after the event and acknowledged me as secretary of state, so I gave a short get-out-and-vote speech and encouraged people to get registered and vote in the upcoming election," Miller said.
Despite his successful MMA debut, Miller said he's retiring from competition at 1-0. He'll remain a staunch fan of the sport and will continue his training at Reno's Charles Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy and the occasional workout at the UFC's own gym in Las Vegas. But his days as an active fighter are now over.
"It was on my bucket list to compete once in a mixed-martial-arts event, but my wife was very anxious cageside," Miller said. "Now that I've tried it once, I'll be comfortable going back to just training weekly in jiu-jitsu and doing a little bit of light muay Thai sparring.
"I checked something off my bucket list and fortunately got him with a lucky punch. It worked out well for me, and I ended the night with my hand raised."