I like the Miller brothers, Dan especially. He really seems humble and praises a lot of his fellow middle weights in the UFC.
It started out as just a normal Friday, but by the end of January 15th, Dan Miller and his brand new Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt were the talk of the MMA world.
“I didn’t expect it to be all over the internet like that,” said Miller. “It was crazy.”
Just goes to show you how far Miller - the older brother of fellow UFC fighter Jim – has come in the 16 months since his Octagon debut against Rob Kimmons in September of 2008. No longer toiling on the local circuit, his exploits are now newsworthy, something the soft-spoken 28-year old has had to get used to, but at the same time, he accepts it as part of the job. And when it comes to the belt he received from Renzo Gracie black belt Jamie Cruz, it’s clear that he’s humbled by the honor.
“It’s an honor getting it from Jamie and that he recognizes my skills and thinks that I deserve to be at that level,” said Miller. “That’s really what it is, the recognition from him, and I’m proud of that.”
The timing is perfect for Miller too, considering that on February 6th he’ll be taking on the man considered to be the best jiu-jitsu player in the middleweight division, Demian Maia. But just because he’s got a black belt like Maia, that doesn’t mean he was blessed with magic powers to use on fight night.
“Not that I know,” he laughs. “Maybe that comes with the first degree or the second degree. Right now I’m just a regular black belt.”
But all joking aside, Maia has shown his ground game to be at least a step or two ahead of everyone else’s. And that’s to an untrained eye. What does a black belt in BJJ like Miller see when he looks at Maia, and what sets the Brazilian apart from the pack?
“It never seems to me like he gets flustered in there when he’s on the ground in his element,” said Miller. “I’ve seen him get rolled and lose mount and stuff like that, but it never really bothers him. He just keeps going and eventually he works his way in and chokes a guy out or submits him. He’s just very smooth and very, very good.”
Usually years and years of practice will produce a similar calm in the heat of battle, regardless of the sport or endeavor. Miller isn’t so sure that’s going to be the case with him.
“I don’t know if it’s gonna come in time, I think he (Maia) is just a freak,” he smiles. “He’s just so good and he’s picked it up so well for MMA. There are some black belts and jiu-jitsu guys who don’t have a good game for MMA, and I think he’s got a great game for MMA. He works it in very well.”
Being able to adapt his Jiu-Jitsu game to MMA had been the key to Maia’s success so far, with the exception of his last bout, a one punch, 21 second knockout loss to Nate Marquardt. The defeat gave hope to other middleweights that perhaps Maia’s glaring weakness was indeed his standup game, but Miller isn’t counting on lightning striking twice. He’s got one goal, and he doesn’t care how he achieves it.
“I need to get the win and I’m going in to get the win,” said Miller. “I’m sure he’s been working on his hands and I’m sure he’s getting better, so I think it’s gonna be a different fight from the Marquardt fight. Obviously Marquardt’s a phenomenal striker and I don’t know if I’m up to his level yet, so I’m just gonna go in there and fight my fight and see what happens. This is my biggest test and we’ll see where I’m at.”
Recovering from a devastating knockout loss is Maia’s albatross heading into Las Vegas. Miller has his own issues, as he’s coming off a decision defeat to Chael Sonnen at UFC 98 last May that has been followed by the longest layoff of his career – one of over eight months come fight night.
First the loss, Miller’s only one in the UFC after a 3-0 start, and his first overall since he dropped a split decision to Mike Massenzio in 2006.
“He (Sonnen) came in and did exactly what he needed to do to beat me,” said Miller. “He came in, took me down, and controlled me. He didn’t let me get anything off, he had a great gameplan, and he came in real tough.”
The defeat prompted Miller to alter his training, something he felt was lacking before the Sonnen fight.
“I had to train a little smarter and better,” he said. “He’s a great wrestler and I couldn’t stop anything.”
By September, Miller had another fight scheduled, against CB Dollaway, but a staph infection sidelined him and made the wait for redemption even longer.
“It’s tough to lose and then not get the opportunity to redeem yourself right away,” he said. “If it was up to me, I would have fought in June or July. It’s been a little nuts for me and I just want to get back in there. I don’t like to sit around and do nothing.”
He did have something to keep him busy in the months away, and that was helping Jim prepare for his bouts against Mac Danzig, Steve Lopez, and Duane Ludwig. It could have been a hard thing for Miller to deal with, just being around the UFC atmosphere as a spectator and not a participant, but he had no issues with it at all.
“It’s my job to help Jim get ready,” he said. “When I don’t have a fight lined up, and he does, my job is to help him get better, help him train, be a punching bag for him (Laughs), and get him mentally ready for the fight. I knew my time was coming, I just had to wait for it.”
His time comes in a little over two weeks. And guess what? It can’t come soon enough for him.
“I just want to get back in the ring,” he said. “I love fighting and it really doesn’t matter against who; I want to be in there. I love training, but I do it to fight.”