It started off simply enough, with a question about the kind of difficulties Ross Pearson would present to him in their bout on Wednesday night in Austin, Texas. But as lightweight up and comer Cole Miller responded, he wasn’t only answering the question, he was making a declaration – of intent, of his philosophy on fighting, and of war.
“I think it’s this new method of sportfighting that all these guys are doing,” said the Georgia native. “I’m not doubting that he (Pearson) has striking talent; he has definitely improved since the show (The Ultimate Fighter) and his first fight in the UFC with Andre Winner, which I think plays into my game better. I do better with more technical guys. But the thing is, he’s getting all decisions, and his one stoppage was over Aaron Riley and it was a cut stoppage. He wants to score, then clinch, and score and clinch. I’m sure this guy’s got knockout power - he’s built like a tank - but it just doesn’t seem like he’s really down to put forth that type of commitment to ending a fight. I think this is bad for the sport, it’s bad for the UFC, and I think that this is why you’re gonna start seeing more guys that are athletic, who look like action figures, and that have wrestling backgrounds coming in because they don’t have to beat you. They just gotta score their points, score their takedowns, or score their strikes and stop your takedowns, and ride out that decision. Just wait for that minute and a half left and do what you gotta do to win that round and score with those judges. That’s how I see his striking being. It’s very good, but I just don’t see him putting any passion or emotion into the fight. It might be a sport to some people, but it’s not a sport to me.”
The best part is, the 26-year old meant every word he said. He wasn’t looking to smack talk anyone or looking to become bulletin board material for his fellow lightweights. He was opening up about something near and dear to him that he believes has drifted from its initial intent. And he doesn’t care who hears about it.
“The thing is, with my go for broke style, I’ll end up being the one who gets knocked out or TKO’ed because I know that these guys aren’t gonna try to fight me,” he continues. “It’s kinda foolish and I admit that, but I kinda go after these guys too hard. I know they’re not going to fight me to finish me. It’s called mixed martial arts, but none of these guys are using martial arts. Martial arts were made to put your opponent away, not to make him last for 15 minutes. The first part of martial arts is for you to defend yourself. The second is for you to eliminate your opponent. These guys aren’t eliminating anybody, and I just don’t get it. So I have to make up for that. I gotta come at these guys and take all these risks, which leaves me open to be countered.”
If you saw Miller’s most recent fight, a spectacular first round submission of Dan Lauzon at UFC 108 in January, you saw “Magrinho” walking the walk. Looking for the finish wherever the fight went, even getting dropped in the process, Miller finally subbed his game foe with an inverted reverse triangle / kimura. Following the bout, he gave an emotional on-air interview where he said, “I don’t promise to win every fight, I promise to fight every fight.”
And when you look at his seven fight UFC stint, Miller (16-4 overall) has not gone back on his word, as he’s knocked out Andy Wang, submitted Lauzon, Jorge Gurgel, and Junie Browning, and got stopped twice, by Jeremy Stephens and Efrain Escudero. Only once has he gone to a decision in a UFC bout, in a decision win over current WEC standout Leonard Garcia in 2007. So since the hot button topic in MMA these days is whether fighters are being too conservative in search of the almighty “W”, Miller is an obvious choice to chime in with his two cents.
“I think you’ve got to have real integrity in your work, and it’s called martial arts,” he said. “But people leave the art out of it. Any person that was great in anything that was artistic, whether they were a poet, a singer, a playwright, a painter, a sculptor, they put their heart and soul into their work. And if I’m not doing that, I’d feel ashamed of myself. I feel ashamed for the people who don’t do that themselves.”
“I remember something my baseball coach in high school told me,” Miller continues, “he said it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. That always stuck with me. You’ve got to keep learning from your mistakes, and the way I see martial arts and mixed martial arts being, if you’re not finishing somebody, that’s a mistake. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose; it’s a mistake if you don’t finish somebody.”
So right about now, if you’re a fairly new fan of the UFC, you may be wondering, ‘how come Cole Miller isn’t on the cover of the UFC video game, starring in commercials, and basically being an ambassador for the sport?’ Well, it may just be that the fickle finger of fate hasn’t been too kind to the American Top Team standout, as injuries, losses at bad times, and plain ol’ bad luck have kept him from taking his career to the next level. Not surprisingly, it has frustrated the five year pro, sometimes leading him to the brink of calling it a day as an active fighter.
“I thought about it a couple times in my career,” he admits. “After I got off The Ultimate Fighter (season five), had I lost to Andy Wang, I wasn’t gonna walk away from mixed martial arts, but I was probably gonna go find a separate career. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s just frustrating. Every time I started to do something cool and build momentum, I get injured.”
After winning two of his first three post-TUF 5 bouts, Miller fought Gurgel at UFC 86 in July of 2008 and pulled off a stirring come from behind submission win by locking in a triangle choke with just 12 seconds left in the fight. It should have been the start of something big for Miller, especially since he was going to get the chance to fight in his home state of Georgia at UFC 88 two months later if he emerged unscathed from the Gurgel bout.
But he didn’t, as Gurgel’s kicks forced him into knee surgery and out of UFC 88. Nine months later he returned and defeated Browning in April of 2009. Five months later he was stopped by Escudero in the first round. Bouncing back again, Miller pulled off the UFC.com unofficial submission of the half-year, but torn cartilage in his hand put him on the shelf again. Now he just hopes that if he beats Pearson he’ll emerge unscathed and be able to get another fight in this year. But regardless of what happens Wednesday, he’s got a couple of different avenues to pursue when it comes to making a march at the 155-pound title.
“You’ve got to have a plan, and not just one plan, because things in life are gonna come by you and you have to be prepared for these things,” he said. “Ideally I’d like to get in one more fight by the end of the year. If I do, this will be the first time I’ve gotten three fights in from a January to January year (in the UFC). And I’m positive that it would be one of these contenders that I think I really can hang with. Not that Ross isn’t very talented, because he is, but it’s another one of these Ultimate Fighter guys. And he won The Ultimate Fighter, so if I beat this guy I’m positive that I’ll be able to get one of these bigger names that have been in the mix.”
Should he get one of the contenders he’s looking to fight, beat him, and then another and another, he may just forget the rocky times and look forward to a positive future. Actually, he’s already started doing that by remembering what his high school coach told him.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” he smiles. “I want there to be an end game. I don’t want there to be a question and things left unanswered. What if I took that chance? What if I took that leap? What if I had still kept fighting? Anytime things start to look bad, I come back and do something good. And sometimes when you fall back down, you’ve got to pick yourself back up.”