On Saturday night, Jim Miller competed in this 30th fight in the UFC. The announce team made sure to highlight this, after all he is the first person to reach that number of fights in the premier MMA organization in the world. Over the course of 30 fights and 10 years, Miller has been a fixture of the Lightweight division, a division that hasn’t always been marquee, but has almost always been a bit of a meat grinder. His staying power is something to be lauded. But outside of that, outside of just hanging around longer than everybody else, what are we to make of Jim Miller?
When we look back at Jim Miller’s career, I don’t know what we’ll say. If you had asked me a week ago, I’d say that we wouldn’t say much, that he was just a guy who had good fights, but judging by the reaction and reception he received at UFC 228, maybe I misjudged the whole situation. People seem to really like Jim Miller.
When Jim Miller beat Alex White, there was a kind of cathartic release I didn’t expect, a mixture of “thank god he didn’t get killed” and “hell yeah, my guy one.” If there is anyone who should be able to appreciate this sort of thing, it is me. One of the highlights of my year was watching Gomi beat Melvin Guillard. When the old guard win, I am the first to celebrate. But, when Jim Miller won, it just wasn’t a meaningful moment for me.
So why is that? Why doesn’t Jim Miller click with me? Its not that he’s a boring fighter, he certainly isn’t. While some of his contemporaries, Clay Guida notably, have shied away from bringing the action for long stretches, Miller never did. He has a handful of Fight of the Night bonuses and I can’t think of a single bad Jim Miller fight. I think that the issue with Jim Miller is that his career and resume are emblematic of the current UFC’s problem with mediocrity.
I don’t want to come off as an old guy here, the current UFC product is great, the fighters are great, there has never been more talent in one promotion. And as much as you can say about the pay structure of the UFC, and there is a lot you can say and most of the words are uncomplimentary, on the whole they pay more than everybody else. The issue is that the UFC has been too willing to foster mediocrity. Look no further than Jim Miller.
Jim Miller never fought for the UFC title, over the course of 10 years and 30 fights, not one of them was for a title, Al Iaquinta and Diego Sanchez fought for the UFC Lighweight title during that time, Jim Miller never even got a shot at an interim title and I’m fairly certain that my neighbor has fought for an interim UFC title at this point. Miller got close, a title eliminator with Nate Diaz, but he came up short. He won seven fights in a row at one point, but still no title shot, and not because of some UFC politics or timing, he just wasn’t on that level. He was 18 wins in his 30 fights, it’s over half but it isn’t exactly upper echelon stuff.
What Jim Miller has been able to do, more so than everyone else, is stick around. He has been able to win when he absolutely needed to, put on enough good fights to please the UFC brass, and had enough of a name to fill slots higher on the card. He’s been able to do just enough. I suppose that he should be applauded for that, I suppose that he has stuck around long enough for people to grow to like him, but outside of his record number of wins and appearances, has he done anything that really matters? Has Jim Miller left a mark on the sport that won’t be surpassed by someone else down the line?
I lean towards no. The UFC runs more cards than ever, with more cards means more fighters, more fighters means more fights. You see where I’m going here, a UFC fight, on average, has never meant less. Four more fighters will probably hit the 30 fight mark by the end of next year (Jeremy Stephens, Donald Cerrone, Demian Maia, and Diego Sanchez) Outside of Stephens, everyone of them has fought for a title, and all of them seem to have a better career resume than Miller. 5 years from now, I would assume, a whole handful of fighters will have far surpassed Miller’s fight total and had more fights of consequence, that is just the way things are trending.
There was a time when a UFC fight meant something, at least more than it does now. Every fight on the card used to have real implications, but as the UFC became more popular, as more entities needed fight cards to fill airtime, your run of the mill UFC fight has meant less and less. There was a time when a guy could go out and make a decent living headlining regional MMA cards only because he had fought in the UFC, today being a UFC veteran is like having a belly button. Jim Miller’s career just so happened to coincide with this boom. The UFC needed fighters to fill their cards, and Jim Miller was there. They needed guys to headline cards on TV, and Jim Miller was there. They needed guys to have exciting fights, and they had Jim Miller. He had a role and he played it.
All that being said, after Saturday night, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Jim Miller meant more to people than I thought, it certainly seemed that way on that night. Maybe Jim Miller, in his longevity and general entertainment value, has left a mark that I never noticed, maybe Jim Miller is the cult favorite of this era of MMA. I don’t know and we probably won’t actually know for a while. All we have know are his 30 fights and maybe that’s enough. His 30 fights and 18 wins might not mean all that much, but they, in a sort of macro sense, mean everything. They exemplify an era of the UFC.