For the first time in his career, Cole Miller is entering a fight on a two bout losing streak. For most fighters, that would be the time to hit the panic button, to wonder where the next paycheck is coming from, and to look around for someone to blame. Miller isn’t doing any of those things heading into his Saturday matchup with fellow veteran Bart Palaszewski.
He takes responsibility for falling short of victory in decision losses against Steven Siler and Nam Phan, not looking to pin the defeat on his training team or situation like many fighters do. That kind of loyalty is becoming increasingly rare, but if Miller tells you that he will rep American Top Team for life, he means it.
“Loyalty’s very important to me,” said the Georgia native. “I’ve got the word tattooed on my right arm in Portuguese, and I knew when I came here (to American Top Team) that this place was something special. And the big reason I’ve stayed is because of the relationships that I’ve developed with the coaching staff and with many of my teammates. I learn from them constantly, we feed off each other, much the same way a lot of other teams work, but I just feel that for my game and for my style, and for the attitude more as a martial artist, not so much an athlete, that this is the place to be. It has true original and fundamental martial arts values that a place like this should have.”
So what are his thoughts on the “gym hopping” phenomenon seemingly tearing through the sport over the last couple years?
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t leave,” he said. “Some people’s journey takes them in that direction, but you just see these guys that are joining one Supercamp, then the next Supercamp and the next one, and it’s ridiculous. If you’re a true martial artist, you’re not in this business to just move on to the next big thing. You’re constantly seeking perfection and constantly trying to work on yourself as an athlete, as a technician, and as a person as well.”
Wins and losses aside, Miller is on that journey, with a recent milestone being achieved last December when he received his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. But earning such an honor isn’t an excuse for him to stray from his path.
“It feels pretty good,” he said of getting his black belt, “but it’s not like the end of a race. I’m still moving forward, still progressing, and it’s so cliché to say that this is just the beginning, but it is. It’s a part of the martial arts journey and now I’m ready to be the master student. I’m starting to see things a little more clearly. Nothing changed really from the day before I got the black belt to the day after, but it just says that I’ve put in a lot of hard time and a lot of hard work, and that I know the martial art, that I can teach the martial art, and that I can apply the martial art in a lot of different facets.”
On Saturday, he’ll be applying it in the Octagon in Las Vegas against Palaszewski in one of the can’t miss action fights on the Ultimate Fighter 17 finale card. Like Miller, Palaszewski has lost two straight, leading “Magrinho” to describe the featherweight bout as a “loser leaves town matchup.”
Just hearing that from a fighter like Miller or Palaszewski can make you wince, given the entertaining style and talent that both bring on fight night, but Miller isn’t sweating it.
“Anytime that I’m coming off a loss I always feel like that,” he said. “I felt like that my last fight, and I fought a good fight but didn’t get enough done. I’ve never lost two in a row my entire career, and I did my last fight, so that’s kinda like getting your first loss out of the way; now I can quit worrying about that and it’s one less stress on my mind and I can just focus on going out there and doing what I can do, and that’s it.”
As for Palaszewski, Miller says “He’s a pretty raw fighter as far as his mentality and approach to fighting, and he’s very capable standing and on the ground, and he’s a durable guy. He’s hard to finish.”
And truth be told, neither fighter got blown out in their recent defeats, with Miller losing a split decision to Nam Phan and Palaszewski dropping a Fight of the Night decision to Diego Nunes. But it has to be asked of the 28-year-old Miller whether he’s considered moving back to lightweight after two losses at 145 pounds. His answer is an emphatic one.
“145 is my weight class,” he said. “I feel good, I was fast my last fight, I was strong my last fight, and after it was over I could have fought three more rounds. So going back to 155 hasn’t crossed my mind yet. I’m not trying to be stubborn and trying to make this 145 thing work before I committed to it. This is my weight class.”
It has been a learning process getting to that point though, one he believes he’s mastered – at least physically.
“Physically, I felt like s**t in my first fight (at featherweight),” said Miller. “But my last fight with Nam, physically I felt great, and it was more of a just a mental lapse, you could say. There were things that I should have done and could have done, but I just didn’t do it in the fight and I didn’t make the adjustments. So physically, I felt fast, I felt good, I felt strong, and I just didn’t fight the right fight. I still think I won the fight, but it is what it is. That’s the sport, and I honestly don’t even want the win if it goes the distance. I’m only happy with a finish, but physically I felt great and I don’t really think there’s much tweaking to be done.”
Now it just comes down to putting it all together on fight night. It’s the beauty of the sport in that you have to be on when it’s time to be on. You don’t get to do this again five days later like a baseball pitcher. Miller knows that, and he also knows that after 25 pro fights, getting on can take some more time.
“I’m over 30 on the inside of my body,” he said. “When you fight the way that I do, you’re not coming out of these fights unscathed. And that’s a mirror of how I train.”
But regardless, Cole Miller isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For all the good, the bad, and the ugly, he’s a fighter.
“This is my job, this is what I put the last decade of my life into, and it’s part of who I am.”
Cole Miller: The Martial Way
"This is my job, this is what I put the last decade of my life into, and it’s part of who I am." - Cole Miller