A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I first met Jim and Dan Miller – it was around 2005 at “Planet Jiu-jitsu” (the name of the gym where the Miller’s began their training). Planet was an affiliate of my coach Rob Kahn and he brought me along to roll with these two blue belts everyone was talking about. I knew they both were standout wrestlers, but knowing these prodigies hadn’t been training very long I didn’t expect much. Despite their limited mat time Jim and Dan gave me all I could handle – the only reason I was able to come out on top at all was because I used submissions they hadn’t seen yet. Afterwards we all went out to eat and they told me how they were training for their first MMA fights in a few weeks. I immediately knew they would quickly be making a name for themselves.
Eventually Sean “Shorty Rock” Santella started asking me to work with him. He took to my teaching well and began singing my praises enough that a few other fighters started trying me on for size – eventually I wound up working with the Millers. Jim and Dan are special athletes. For most people, they’ll learn a new move or concept and it will take a serious amount of repetition along with trial and error before they make it their own. With the Millers, I could show them a technique on Monday and they’d tap me out with it by Wednesday. Jim and Dan are submission hunters, we used to joke that they had a “submission before position” style of fighting. This sort of approach has earned them more than a few bonus checks and some amazing highlight reel finishes, but from time to time it could backfire.
In Jim’s bouts against Joe Lauzon and Pat Healy he went full seek and destroy mode right out the gate. He left Lauzon covered in blood and had Healy nearly unconscious at the end of the first round. However, as the fights played out both turned into back and forth wars – while the FOTN bonus checks were nice it was becoming apparent that a more tactical approach might result in a longer and more fruitful career. Going into this fight camp all coaches were in agreement about being efficient and calculating; hitting single and doubles rather than constantly swinging for the fences. The ground attack for based around safety first, making sure to avoid unnecessary damage and allowing the opponent to give us the opening rather than forcing it. Jim’s opponent Fabricio Camoes was a 3rd degree BJJ black belt so we had our work cut out for us.
This was my first time cornering a fight in Vegas. I didn’t realize how intense the fight fans were. Jim was a full-fledged celebrity, every step he took he was shaking hands, signing autographs or kissing babies. More people knew Jim here than if he was at his high school reunion. The interesting thing I noticed though was how short the fan’s memories were. After leaving a fighter meeting I walked ahead while Jim was meeting with fans. Standing next to me the entire time was former world champion Mike Brown. To me Brown is an MMA legend; he finished Urijah Faber when many thought he was untouchable. Before Jose Aldo came along he had won 10 straight and was a two time defending WEC champion. Still and active fighter, he had won 2 of his last 3 UFC fights. Yet he walked through the crowded sea of fans without recognition. I came to realize that MMA is very much about “what have you done lately”.
Team Miller passed the time telling stories about youthful hijinks, gardening and brewing strategies and the many misadventures of their precocious children. Aside from briefly discussing strategy you’d have no idea we would be entering a fist fight on pay per view.
I’m generally very nervous before fights. Regardless of how prepared a fighter happens to be I can’t keep my mind from running through doomsday scenarios. I generally try to conceal my uncertainty through a combination of binge eating and bad jokes. For this fight I felt abnormally at ease. I was certain Jim would be successful and his confident disposition calmed my normally alert nerves. However, for a moment all that changed. While at weigh-ins I saw Royler Gracie stroll by and thought to myself, “I wonder who he’s cornering”. Then I remembered that he was there for Camoes, Jim’s opponent. I had a sudden bout of self-doubt. I grew up on legends of the Gracie family. When I was 16 you could have convinced me that Helio and his sons hung the moon. I remember Royler was hand-picked to corner Rickson in Japan years before I even knew how to spell jiu-jitsu. I thought he had likely forgotten more than I’d ever know about jiu-jitsu. However, for the past two months I was tasked with devising a jiu-jitsu strategy that would overwhelm Royler’s top fighter. My dormant neurosis was now alive and well. I reminded myself that it was Jim vs Camoes, not Brian vs Royler and tried my best to focus on the task at hand.
This fight camp there was a new approach. Jim took a more analytical approach to his preparation and really put himself under the microscope. He realized that while he had elite technique and conditioning, he would occasionally get himself into hot water by being overly aggressive. Trying to KO his opponent with every strike earned him some hefty bonuses, but may have cost him some key victories as well. Patience and relaxation were the theme of this fight camp. Attack when the moment is right rather than forcing the issue. Warming up Jim looked fluid and focused. When the first note of “Long Cool Woman” filled the arena Jim marched towards the octagon with unshakable composure.
The bell sounded and Camoes rushed towards Jim. While our approach was slow and steady, Camoes was in seek and destroy mode. The first few exchanges saw Camoes landing hard strikes that were starting to find their mark. He was loading up on hooks and head kicks, trying to end the bout quickly. This was not what we expected. A wrestling and jiu-jitsu attack was what we assumed Camoes, a third degree BJJ black belt, would bring to the table. This straight ahead striking attack took us by surprise. Jim shifted gears and looked for the takedown, which presented itself when Camoes attempted a high kick. Immediately Camoes attempted to spring back to his feet and in the process exposed his back. Jim got a little overanxious and slid off the back though, ending up on the bottom in guard. Instantly, he began breaking Camoes’ posture in order to control the distance and limit any strikes. I called out for him to swim his arm to the mat. Jim responded, but Camoes countered and kept his arm on the torso. Jim cleared the head and immediately swung into the armbar. He clamped his legs into position and synched a tight grip across the wrist while hooking the leg to prevent a slam. Then he waited. Rather than forcing the issue he was biding his time and waiting for the ideal opportunity. Camoes for a moment pulled his weight back; Jim now had his opportunity and powerfully arched his hips. Dan saw Camoes wince in pain and instructed his brother to give it everything he had. Jim obliged him and Camoes was forced to submit.
Immediate exaltation spread throughout our corner. A first round submission without taking serious damage, by all accounts a near perfect performance. Camoes stormed off, punching the cage in anger. In that moment I felt for him. He had obviously made substantial improvements for this fight. He had hoped to put the new and improved Fabricio Camoes on display and for a few moments looked like he might enjoy his day in the sunshine. However, MMA is a winner-take-all system and despite his diligence he would suffer the slings and arrows of defeat. Following his cathartic fence stomping Camoes shook Jim’s hand.
-During his post-fight interview Jim surprised me. It isn’t often that a fighter gets a captive audience, victory speeches are often opportunities to bolster their accomplishment, proclaim their title worthiness, or call out rival fighters. Instead when Joe Rogan asked Jim about his victory he took his moment to tell the world that I was a quality trainer, a truly selfless act that reminded me that every long drive to New Jersey was well worth the trip.
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