NEWARK, N.J. – One look at Dan Miller's record, and you can't help but notice a recent three-fight skid that nearly cost him his UFC career.
Miller took on the elite of the middleweight division – Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia and Michael Bisping – and didn't have a single win to show for it.
But for Miller, who returns as a late replacement against Nate Marquardt at Saturday's UFC 128 event, his in-cage setbacks hardly compared to the heartbreak of his personal life.
Miller, who recently replaced Yoshihiro Akiyama in the wake of the Japanese earthquake disaster, fights in a pay-per-view main-card bout. It takes place in his home state at the Prudential Center in Newark N.J.
After that rough three-fight losing streak, Miller now looks for his third straight win following a submission victory over John Salter and a split-decision win over Joe Doerksen in late 2010. But the triumphs came a year after personal tragedy – namely, the death of his young daughter.
"It was hard to leave the house," Miller admitted to MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) at today's UFC 128 open workouts. "My wife was home. It was tough to train. It really was. Fight time? I can concentrate for 15 minutes and concentrate on the fight and get ready, and mentally, be there for the fight. But physically, it just wasn't there."
Miller showed up each time to fight, even despite the family tragedy. He didn't pull out of fights. He was hopeful he could set aside the mental baggage for a single three-round fight. But the sadness and mourning was too much to endure over a full training camp, and he paid the price on fight night.
"It's tough," said Miller, whose young son, also has dealt with recent health issues. "It's more about the training than anything else, and I had a tough time training in 2009."
Miller, though, doesn't blame the losses on his real-world heartbreak. He admits Sonnen simply outclassed him – "He just came out and beat, and there was nothing I could do to stop him," Miller said – and though the Maia and Bisping losses were competitive bouts, he just didn't have the physical stamina or focus he needed.
He thinks he's worked through those hurdles. He'll never let go of the daughter he lost, but he knows the best thing he can do for his family is go out and continue his ascent in the middleweight division.
"I'm progressing now and everything like that," he said. "My stand-up is getting much better. My ground game is getting better. My wrestling has gotten a lot better since the Chael fight. I just need to improve, and mentally, show that I belong here."
That's why he welcomed the fight with Marquardt. Initially slated to fight Nick Catone in an untelevised preliminary-card bout, Miller now fights in a televised main-card fight against one of the world's top-10 fighters in his division.
It's just the matchup he needs to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of the middleweight class.
"It was a fight I had to take," he said. "For me to move up in the ranks, I need to beat guys like Nate. I've faced tough guys like him before, and I haven't done so well. This is my time to prove that I deserve to be there and that I prove to be in the top 10 in the UFC."