It was a gritty, blood-covered and hard-nosed declaration that resonated throughout the MMA community following this three-round war with Joe Lauzon in Las Vegas. Over the course of 15 minutes in what some are calling the "Fight of the Year," the New Jersey-native proved the fires that fueled his previous run to title contention are still raging as he scrapped his way to victory in an action-packed tilt.
Prior to the co-main event, the pay-per-view portion of the card was flatlining, but when the cage door closed, the two lightweight fighters put on one of the best battles in recent memory. After an early onslaught by Miller, the two men spent the rest of the fight trading punches and attempting to out-manuever one another in grappling exchanges.
When the final bell sounded, the bout went to the judges' cards where Miller took home the unanimous decision.
While the fight didn't end in the fashion Miller hoped, the win over Lauzon to close out 2012 will set the stage for big things in the coming year.
"It was a fun fight," Miller told Bleacher Report. "We went in there and fought hard. Both of us were dead at the end of it. I've never had a fight where I was so out of breath doing a post-fight interview. After the fight, I stood up for a couple of seconds, and then, I had to go sit down against the cage because I could barely stand at that point. That was satisfying because I left it all in there.
Even being confident that I won at that point, you still never know what's going to happen. I'd rather be completely exhausted and hear the other guy's name than have something left in the tank, having held something back and hear their name.
"Seeing the outpouring of compliments from the fans and the fight community make it feel like it was one of those 'once in a career' type fights. It left an impression on people, and it was cool to be a part of it. I still would have liked to finish him. I was trying to put him away in the first round, and from that point on, but even though I didn't get the finish, it was still cool to be a part of that fight.
"I feel I made a pretty good statement. I want the big fights. I've proven that I can be in exciting fights and I'm excited to see what's next."
From the jump, both fighters set about imposing their respective wills.
After two minutes of back-and-forth exchanging, Miller landed a counter left hand that stunned Lauzon and put him on the defensive. Feeling he had his opponent hurt, the AMA-trained fighter unleashed a vicious flurry of short elbows which opened a nasty cut above Lauzon's right eye. The Massachusetts native endured the attack, and after being battered and bloodied, survived the opening frame.
"It played out pretty good for me in the first round," Miller said. "I came out and wanted to set the pace. I have an aggressive as well, and it seemed like he was getting a lot of attention before the fight for his aggression. But I think I pretty clearly out-aggressioned the most aggressive guy on our roster.
I just wanted to get in his face, and I had him hurt. I was connecting, and I really made an effort to put him away. I don't think most guys would have survived that first round like he did and still been able to do some things later on in the fight.
"I could feel the finish there, and I was trying to keep the pressure on him. Thinking back on it, I probably should have changed my target a bit and went to the body because he was covering up pretty good up top. I should have went to the body in order to get him to drop his hands and maybe that would have opened him up for a knock out shot or something like that.
I had the momentum so I was trying to take it. I did not want to have to fight him for 15 minutes because he's a dangerous guy. I was trying to take that opportunity and really run with it."
Throughout his career Miller has been most effective when the action hits the canvas. An accomplished grappler, the 29-year old is a three-time "Submission of the Night" winner, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has put intense focus on broadening his striking skills.
In the fight with Lauzon, the southpaw consistently found a home for his left hand, but it was the elbows Miller threw which did the most damage.
"Standing elbows are something I've been working on for a couple of years now," Miller said. "It's just one of those things where you have to get the reps in. I've done thousands of standing elbows now, and when I'm sparring with guys and we aren't throwing elbows, I have to prevent myself from elbowing them. Which is what I want. I want it to come automatically and it has finally reached that point.
I threw some elbows at Ben [Henderson] and had a couple I threw at Nate [Diaz], but I just didn't have the range down. I was able to find my range in this fight and make them count."
Following Miller's flurry of short elbows, Lauzon's face became a blood mask. In between rounds, UFC's ringside team of cut men did their best to shore up the wound, but once the action resumed, the cut resumed spilling blood all over the fighters and canvas alike.
For the man famously responsible for painting the floor of the Octagon crimson at the expense of Mac Danzig at UFC 100, Miller is no stranger to the unique situation of fighting through a blood bath. He believes it all comes down to adapting your game plan to the circumstances at hand and applied that strategy during the fight with Lauzon.
"It does become a factor," Miller answered when asked about the blood. "It really makes it hard to get a hold of somebody. When we were tied up and I had him on the mat, I really wanted to use more of a pressure game and not let him bump me up or scramble. I wanted to use a tighter style of grappling I figured would work.
It was hard as hell to hold onto him, and it definitely made my job harder trying to keep him flat. The blood changes the way fights can go and what you have to do. You definitely don't want to be on the bottom if you are bleeding or have the guy who is bleeding on top of you."
With the fight clock ticking down and Miller heading toward the victory, Lauzon went for broke as he dove in with a flying heel hook. The TUF 5 alum wrapped his body around Miller's legs, and both men hit the canvas as Lauzon attempted to crank out the submission.
While Miller admits the ankle lock and guillotine attempt that followed were tense moments, the level of exhaustion both fighters were experiencing made the submissions less dangerous than they appeared.
"The heel hook and ankle lock got a little uncomfortable, but I wasn't really in pain from it," Miller said. "As soon as he threw it we hit the mat and I started reaching for his hand. I got my heel driven through so it turned into a straight ankle lock. I made the note to myself that he was just going to have to break it.
I knew there were only 15 seconds left, and I was prepared to be walking on crutches right now if I had to, but it wasn't even to the point where I would have tapped to it in training. As for the guillotine, we were both pretty exhausted so it really wasn't that close."
In the aftermath of the Miller versus Lauzon fight and the night's main event which saw Cain Velasquez reclaim the heavyweight title in a lopsided victory over Junior dos Santos, a dialogue arose in the MMA community over when a fight should be stopped.
In both fights, with varying degrees in the debate, there were examples where officials could have stepped in and called the bout to save a fighter from taking unnecessary punishment.
It is an issue which is going to look different from every perspective. Miller, and many other fighters, operate from a headstrong approach. Outside of medical issues or the corner taking control, the fight should always go on.
There are people in attendance who have the power to say when enough is enough, but when it comes down to the fighter, they are always going to look for that "Hail Mary" opportunity no matter the circumstance.
"I think I can speak for most guys and you want to play it out," Miller explained. "You want to keep going. Joe threw up a beautiful submission at the end of our fight and could have pulled it out if he had more energy. That's the mentality we all have. It is the bottom of the 9th, two outs, bases loaded, down-by-three type attitude where you are going to look for that home run shot in the last second.
Fights have been won like that. Situations where the fight would have been lost had it gone to the cards but the fighter who was down pulled it out with a knockout or a submission.
"There are lots of ways fights can end, and you can't count anybody out. Until the fight is stopped and over, anybody has the potential to muster up something. That is where you get the great stories. How great was Frankie's comebacks against Gray? Those fights could have potentially been stopped, but you let it play out, and it becomes awesome and a fighter makes a big name for themselves.
"Nobody wants an opportunity taken away from them. The opportunity to pull out a spectacular finish. There are doctors present and people in place to monitor the situation. There have been some instances where you would think it might be necessary to stop something, but the refs do a good job. We are all human and everybody makes mistakes, but for the most part, they get it right. As a fighter, you put your trust in them when it comes to those things."
With the victory over Lauzon, Miller has kept himself in the upper tier of one of the organization's most competitive divisions. The race to remain at the top of the UFC's 155-pound weight class is fierce, and with possibility of Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez and former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez coming into the mix, the fight for top rankings are only going to get intensify.
"I will probably fight at least one of them," Miller replied when asked about the potential newcomers."There are a bunch of good guys coming in and there are still top guys in the UFC that I either haven't fought yet or a guy like Gray, whom I fought for years ago, where it would be a totally different fight now.
There are plenty of matchups for me. It's exciting and I'm looking forward to it because I like to fight. I want to fight them all. We'll see how everything pans out and see who is next."
Regardless of who the UFC taps him to face next, Miller is excited to see how the situation plays out. He is focused on making a run toward the lightweight title, and while the battle toward his ultimate goal of becoming a UFC champion continues, he'll be in the gym every day grinding out progress the only way he knows how.
"I'm looking to constantly improve," Miller added. "I'm working to be the best fighter I can be, and I don't believe I've scratched the surface on that yet. I'm in the gym trying to learn everyday, and things are starting to come out in the fights that I've been working on for some time now. I'm creating those opportunities, and there is a lot more in store."
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