Lightweight Matt Wiman (12-5 MMA, 6-3 UFC) says his connection to Cole Miller (17-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC) runs deeper than "The Ultimate Fighter 5."
Before either of them became known in households throughout the U.S., they saw each other several times when Wiman was living and training in Florida, and they were friendly, the 27-year-old told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). When the reality show came around, it only bolstered what was first built in the gym.
Wiman would have met Miller in the semifinals of "TUF 5" had he gotten past Manny Gamburyan and had Miller gotten past Joe Lauzon. It wasn't that big of a deal back then that they didn't fight. But in the post-reality world, it was probably inevitable that the two would meet at some point given their reputations as exciting, all-out competitors.
It took more than three years for the matchup to materialize – a main-card fight at "UFC Fight Night 23: Fight for the Troops 2," which takes place Saturday at Fort Hood in Texas. Still, Wiman was skeptical when Miller first came up as his next opponent. Concerned about harming the friendship, he picked up the phone and asked the American Top Team fighter if everything was cool.
"I said, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'" Wiman said. "And he said, 'Yeah.' And I said, 'Well, if you're in, I'm in.'"
As it turns out, Miller's reasoning was practical and not personal – maybe even something Wiman could take as a compliment.
"[Miller] wanted to fight me because (among) the list of opponents he was given, I was the most accomplished," he said. "That's the smart way to do it."
Now that he thinks about it, the matchup works out pretty well on his end, too.
"He's coming off a huge win over Ross Pearson, which is good for me," Wiman said. "He's got a lot of momentum, and I'd like to take that from him."
Plus, Miller has drawn quite a bit of attention for an online war of words with Donald Cerrone, who named him as a top choice of opponents in his move from the shuttered WEC to the UFC. (Cerrone first will meet Paul Kelly at UFC 126, but UFC officials may have put a matchup with Miller in its back pocket for the future.) None of that particularly concerns Wiman. He just wants to move up the ladder whether Miller is a friend or not.
"I don't ever listen to hype," he said. "I'm the worst fight fan in the world."
<b>Toughing it out</b>
And Wiman frankly is just happy to be back in the game after a broken arm forced him to withdraw from a booking at UFC Fight Night 21 with Mac Danzig in a rematch from their controversial bout at UFC 115.
"It was a freak accident, I assume," he said of the injury. "I was in an omaplata, and I stood up to limp-arm out of it, and the person I was training with switched to an armbar. Before I could even tap, I knew my arm was 45 degrees the wrong way.
"Maybe the person wasn't being careful, or they just hit it fast to be competitive, and it just gave. It didn't even stop at the joint. It just went snap, rip, pop, tear."
Four ligaments, two tendons and a piece of bone fragment later, is Wiman healed and ready to go? That depends on your definition of healed.
Apparently, he is not one to rely on doctors. He hurt his knee a while ago and now it pops in and out. He still fights on. He separated his shoulder once, and it sometimes comes out of its socket. He still fights. He trained on an ankle broken in three places for "a couple of years." OK, the doctor broke the news to him on that one.
So the arm? Kind of par for the course. He still has managed to put together a two-fight win streak with the previous Danzig win and a decision win over Shane Nelson in December 2009. Pain is part of the job.
"I can hear some scar tissue snapping and popping every now and then, and it's not as stable as it was before, but it's definitely OK," he said of his most recent wound. "I've been rolling 100 percent and doing everything with no problem.
"When you're a fighter, you're whole body is put through the ringer. I've dealt with injuries my whole life."
But those snaps and pops are far better than the alternative: inactivity.
"I've been out for a while, and I'm pretty excited to get back in there," he said. "You get itchy. It's like you do a bunch of training, and it's all in vain unless you get back there and do it."
Will his old buddy go easy on the arm? Don't count on it. This is the octagon, after all.