After a disappointing loss in January, Cole Miller, in what will be his 10th match under the UFC banner, will be looking to get back to his winning ways when he returns to the Octagon in mid-August.
In 2007, Miller, after a little less than two years and 11 victories as a professional in the sport, tried out for "The Ultimate Fighter 5."
Under the tutelage of head coach Jens Pulver, Miller registered a first-round submission victory over Allen Berube before being stopped by Joe Lauzon in the quarterfinals round of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Since making his professional Octagon-debut in June of 2007, Miller, who is the proud owner of four Submission of the Night Awards and one Knockout of the Night Award, has fallen short against Jeremy Stephens, submitted both Jorge Gurgel and Junie Browning, been finished by Efrain Escudero, submitted Dan Lauzon and Ross Pearson, and on January 22nd, dropped a decision to Matt Wiman.
Looking to rebound from his most recent outing, Miller is currently slated to take on T.J. O’Brien at UFC Live: Hardy vs. Lytle on August 14th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Bleacher Report recently had the opportunity to speak with Cole Miller about, among other topics, his time at the American Top Team academy in Florida, the prevalence of depression amongst mixed martial artists, his upcoming match and a potential move to featherweight.
When you were growing up, what did you want to do for a living?
I really just wanted to play baseball forever. I started playing baseball when I was four years old, and it was my first love. I always just figured, you know, even if I didn’t make it to the majors, that I’d be riding some minor league bus around until I was 35 or 40 and just couldn’t hack it anymore. I just wanted to play until I couldn’t play anymore.
How far did you make it in baseball?
I was okay; I played all the way through high school, and I had a few scholarship offers from junior colleges, but I chose to go to Mercer University—which is a D-I school—and I didn’t get a scholarship from it or anything like that.
Three or four weeks into the fall semester, though—right when school started—I ended up having to stop playing baseball, and I ended up flunking out that semester for failing to attend my classes.
I think I was, like, four weeks in, and I had already automatically failed all of my classes. I didn’t think that attendance was a serious thing, but I guess it was there. I was better than average, but I wasn’t super-special, and I probably wouldn’t have been, but I would’ve been good if I had kept playing.
Was it difficult to walk away from baseball?
No. To be honest with you, it really wasn’t. I could’ve played baseball all day, every day, but once I saw what came with being a collegiate athlete, I realized that it wasn’t just the baseball that I had signed on for.
First of all, I had a poor student advisor that gave me a 15-hour load, and I had to be up at five in the morning to lift weights, and then you had to be on the field twice a day and do your classes, and you had mandatory study hall hours—and I’m pretty sure that had to be done during the week.
Realistically, from five in the morning to, probably, 11 at night, you had a job to do. I really just wasn’t ready for that. I was also just, kind of, burnt out from baseball altogether. My dad was really strict as far was playing was concerned and took it very seriously. I wasn’t ready for it.
Do you still pay attention to the game?
Not really. I’ll root for the Braves every playoff season, and I like the Cubbies, as well. I don’t really follow it at all, though.
Were you involved in any martial arts growing up?
No. I always wanted to, but my mom was a single parent, and it was me and my brother and later we had another brother, and she said that I had to pick one sport. She said that I could do karate or Tae Kwon Do—which was very common at the time—or baseball. Of course, I was going to pick baseball.
If someone told you in your youth that you would someday be fighting for a living, what would you tell them?
I couldn’t really picture it back then, because back then, there really was no such thing as “fighting for a living”—unless you were a professional boxer. I was a huge fan of combat sports, though. I was very infatuated with it; I liked things like the Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers, and I loved pro boxing growing up.
I loved movies like Bloodsport and Kick Boxer, Bruce Lee flicks—I was just into anything that was martial arts or combat-related. I was into pro wrestling, too. Back then, if someone told me that I would do it, and it was going to run my life, I probably could’ve believed it, but to be at the UFC where I’m at right now—a full-time job where this is just what I do—there’s no way that you could’ve believed it back then. Fighting wasn’t what it is now.
What do you think made you gravitate towards martial arts?
I was just a fan of all of that stuff. I’ve been watching all of the UFCs, I was into pro wrestling, the cartoons and the movies—I was always into it. After I flunked out of college, I went to another college and got back on track and that was the time and fate just, kind of, came into it.
A buddy of mine came into the place that I worked at at the time—he was training in Macon, Georgia with a small group of guys. They trained pretty hard, and that was my first exposure to it. I just jumped right into the MMA-thing; it wasn’t a traditional BJJ school or anything like that, and I just jumped right into it.
What were your first impressions of the sport?
My first impression was in 1993; I saw the first UFC, and I was a fan. In 2003, when I started training, I was one of the few people that knew what Pride was—I’d always be on Limewire just trying to download everything. My first impression came when I was 10 or 11 and I was into it...I always wanted to try it. Being a young boy, you want to compete. It was natural, and it was definitely something that I wanted to do.
When you started training, what were your intentions?
When I started training, it was just, basically, something to do; baseball was done and I didn’t really have anything that was my niche—something that I held close. When I started training, I just wanted something that was fun and something that was just for me—something that I could do and be passionate about. I got good early—I fought four or five months after I started training—and after my first fight, I was hooked. I thought, you know, whether I’m successful in this or not, I’m going to find a way to make sure that this stays a part of my life for as long as I can do it.
Your first fight was the turning point of your career?
As far as it being a career, yes, but I was hooked when I started training. When I had that first fight, though, I thought, you know, being in the ring or cage was my home.
Have you ever thought about where you might be—had you not come across the sport?
Yeah—I’d be miserable. I’d be working a nine-to-five—and not that that’s bad, but it wasn’t for me. I’m one of these people that need to do whatever their passionate about, you know? I could probably be successful in whatever it was that I chose to do, but I’d probably be miserable if I wasn’t doing what I wasn’t passionate about. Who knows what I’d be doing now?
Are you more passionate about MMA than you were about baseball?
Yeah, for sure. When I was really into baseball, I was into it because it was all that I knew. When I was that into it, it was like baseball was a family member. I really appreciate martial arts and how it’s a way of life, and I’m more into this now than I was when I was into baseball.
How did you come into contact with American Top Team?
A buddy/training partner/coach/manager, Charles McCarthy, started training at American Top Team. I had known him before, because he had come to our gym in Georgia for a little bit. He ended up moving back to South Florida where he originally came from, and I just stayed in touch with him for the whole time.
When he moved to American Top Team, he said that I should go out there a week early and just check the gym out. I went and I just thought, you know, “this is the next level.” What I was doing was great—I had had three or four pro fights already—but I felt like I had reached the extent of my personal growth where I was. I thought that if this was what I wanted to do for a living, then this is where I’ve got to be.
The guys that were in there—back in Pride’s heyday—you could see Denis Kang, Marcus Auerelio, Aaron Riley was there at the time, Benji Radach was there, Mike Brown, Thiago Alves, Din Thomas, Wilson Gouveia—I could name, probably, 30 guys that were there over the course of that week.
It was just a really good experience. I didn’t have any money, but I found a college that was taking late applications, and I just applied for a bunch of student loans, and I pretty much just used the campus as a place to live while I was driving to and from training all of the time.
How much of an impact do you feel the academy has had on your career?
I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I was doing right now if I hadn’t moved to ATT. It’s made a very positive impact; it’s why I’m doing what I’m doing right now...I went there, and I was like, “this is it—my mind is made up.” It’s like in a really bad movie when you see a guy that walks up to the car lot, and they show him the sports car, you know?
He’s thinking about his wife and how she’d tell him that he shouldn’t be buying stuff like that, but he buys it anyway [laughs]. When I walked into American Top Team, I didn’t know anyone—all of my friends and family were back in Georgia—but I just did it. I had already made up my mind.
On your website, you, and I’m paraphrasing, said that ATT is the top gym in the sport. What do you feel makes your academy the best in mixed martial arts?
It’s not just one thing. It’s a mixture of things; grade-A, top-notch instruction. Without great instructors, realistically, you’re not going to have great fighters—we have really good instructors that are really in sync with the fighters. We have good fighters, so we’ve got good training partners, so if you’re a fighter, you’ve got good quality teachers and good quality training partners—and you have an abundance of training-partners.
Every person has their own style, their own game, so you can kind of take bits and pieces from everyone. Mike Brown said it best; he said that it’s like making a collage. Maybe someone will do something to him and it works and he’ll take it and use it—it’s like that. We’ve got a family-type camaraderie—with the coaches, the training-partners. It’s just a really good system.
What was it that inspired you to try out for "The Ultimate Fighter?"
I just wanted to be in the UFC—I didn’t care how I got there. I had already fought in Virginia and Joe Silva had seen me fight. We were in talks with him, and we were asking him, you know, “Who do we have to fight? Who do we have to beat to get in?” I was really small, too; I was about 157 pounds.
Joe Silva had told us about "The Ultimate Fighter" tryouts, because they were actually in Florida and to meet with the producers—they liked me, and it worked out. I didn’t really care about being on TV and being on the show so much; I just wanted to get into the UFC, and I was willing to do what I had to do to get there.
Did you think that you would make it through the casting process?
Yes...I knew I had the skill set, and after meeting with the producers, I could tell that they liked me and I just didn’t have a doubt in my mind.
What was going through your mind on the trip to Las Vegas?
I was just thinking, you know, “Go get it. Have a good experience and get the job done and just get in the UFC.” That was it.
Was there anything that surprised you during your time on the show?
I was surprised with how long it seemed; it literally felt like six months to me and I was only there for six-and-a-half or seven weeks. That was a real surprise; how long it felt. When I got out, I expected the world to be very different, but the only thing that had really changed was myself. I grew a lot in the person, and I grew a lot as a fighter and that’s thanks to the great coaching and the great people that I met on the show.
What did you take away from your time on the show?
I became a better fighter, a better person, I had a better work ethic, I trained harder—I was just a more well-rounded individual.
Were you at all surprised about how quickly you made it to the UFC?
No. Like I said; once I had that first fight, I knew that this is what I was going to be doing. I kept on winning, so I automatically assumed that I would get there eventually. Making it to the UFC didn’t surprise me—I always knew it was going to happen. I was willing to do whatever I had to do to make it happen.
Did you have a “welcome to the UFC moment?”
After I won that first fight on "The Ultimate Fighter"—that was huge. Then, when I beat Andy Wang on the finale, it was like, “Alright—I have a job now.” All that hard work, all that sacrifice, all of the struggle—you’re here now.
Have you ever thought about how long it would’ve taken you to make it to the UFC—had you not taken the ‘The Ultimate Fighter’-route?
No—I’ve never really given it much thought. I think it would just be a year or two after that, I assume.
What does fighting in the UFC mean to you?
It’s a dream come true; it’s the pinnacle of mixed martial arts. It’s where you want to be if you want to test yourself as a fighter, as a person—and if you want to do it as a full-time job—you’ve got to do it in the UFC.
How do you feel about what you’ve been able to accomplish in the UFC so far?
I’ve got mixed feelings [laughs]; I’m happy with the things that I have done, but I wish that I had done more. I’ve had some losses that could’ve been avoided if certain things were done during the fight, but I don’t think too much about the past; I just try to focus on the future.
How do you feel about your most recent performance?
Piss-poor; it was fuckin’ shitty. I just got my head dribbled off the mat for two-and-a-half rounds.
Coming off a loss, does that at all change the way you approach your next match?
Yeah—of course. You want to tell everybody, you know, “You know I’m better than that.” and you want to go in there and put the ass-whippin’ down and redeem yourself. Of course, I always say that you never lose two in a row, so I’m training like this is my hardest fight.
Do you feel that this is your hardest fight?
[Pause] You never know until you get in there, but I’m going to make sure that this is my hardest fight. What makes it a hard fight isn’t who you’re fighting or what happens in the fight; it’s how hard you beat yourself up in the training.
I’m going to make sure that this is my hardest fight. Am I going to have an easy fight night, though? I hope so—I hope I can get in and out of there. Have I fought guys of a higher-calibre? I’d like to think so, you know? There are a couple ways of looking at that.
How much better do you think you’ll be in August than the last time we saw you in the Octagon?
Well, I was pretty bad in my last one, so I can only go up from this point. I expect to be a lot more impressive.
Is it difficult to not get down on yourself after a defeat like that?
Yes. A big thing that a lot of people don’t like to address is depression in fighters. Just because you’re not thinking about, you know, blowing your brains out, doesn’t mean you’re not depressed. A lot of fighters get depressed—real depression. So, yes, it is difficult and no, I was not able to keep myself from getting down; I was very depressed for a couple of months.
How do you get out of that?
Finally, you just get out of your mourning period, and it’s just time to turn the page. It’s not like one thing happens; you’ve just got to get your ass back in the gym—that’s it. You can close the book and leave that as your last fight, or you can clean yourself back up when you get knocked down—that’s life. That’s what life is all about; progression, not regression. If we don’t progress, we die. Pick yourself up, go back to the gym and evolve.
How prevalent do you feel depression is in the sport?
I think it’s pretty big. Most of the fighters that I know get in quite a rut after a tough loss. Not a good fight that was a split-decision or anything like that, but I’m talking about when you get there, and you really get messed up or you train hard for so long, and you get finished in the first round. When you go out there and look silly and when you know that you didn’t give it your best out there, I’ve seen guys get really down.
In that sense, does the bad outweigh the good in mixed martial arts competition?
I’d like to think not; I would like to think that when you suffer enough, that the good outweighs the bad.
How are you feeling going into your upcoming match?
I’m looking forward to it; I’ve got a quality opponent that is good in all areas. He’s kind of like me; he’s over six feet tall, he’s lanky and has good submissions and good standup—I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a great fight.
What problems do you feel T.J. poses to you?
Length, he’s got good striking, and he’s good on the ground. Just judging by his record and looking at his fights, he’s got a very good closed-guard, so you’ve got to watch out the submissions with his big legs. And then on the feet, you’ve got to worry about the high kicks and the low kicks—you’ve got to worry about all of the length that he has.
What do you think T.J.’s game plan is going to be on fight night?
I don’t think he’s going to have one game plan, but I think that he’s going to try and make a fight out of it, and prove, with a well-rounded skill set, that he belongs.
Do you make predictions going into your matches?
I predict I’m going to win. Every now and again, I’ll throw in how I’m going to do it, but for this one, I don’t even care—I just want to win.
Assuming you win, what do you feel is the next step in your career?
I’m not just doing this for the fun of it; I want to be a contender. I’m thinking about what kind of an opponent I can get next—I’d like to fight [Donald] “Cowboy” Cerrone—but, career-wise, I’d like to move to 145. I think that I could do some real damage there.
Have you thought about moving to featherweight for a while?
Yeah...I think I would match up very well against the UFC’s featherweight division; I see a lot of guys that I could be competitive with, but I don’t see anybody that could beat my ass real bad.
Have you thought about how much longer you’d like to compete?
I don’t really want to do this past 35. I started fighting at 19, and I don’t want to do this into my 40s. I figure I’ve got eight more good years in me.
What do you feel you can accomplish in that time?
Hopefully, a world-title. If not, though, I want to be able to make some money; I want to get a house, pay a mortgage, if I’m starting a family, I want to start putting away some college fund money. That’s it.
Would you fight if you weren’t compensated for your performance?
I’ve already done that many times...Once you’re a professional, you can’t go back to amateur and fight for free, but when I started fighting, I wasn’t compensated; I fought 10 fights for free because I wanted to get in there and do it. I have no intentions of ever fighting for free again, though [laughs].
Have you thought about what you might like to do when you’re done fighting?
I’ll train martial artists; I’m going to have a big martial arts academy where I train jiu-jitsu, boxing, kick-boxing, MMA. That’s what I want to do. Martial arts is a way of life for me and after I’m done competing, it’s not going to be the ending for me.
For fans of mixed martial arts on Twitter, don't forget to follow Cole Miller at http://twitter.com/#!/colemillerATT and Ed Kapp at http://twitter.com/#!/EdKapp