MMA: TUF 14

Miller deserves one more shot in the UFC

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
2:41
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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It took all of about seven minutes for the "Mayhem" to drain out of Jason Miller at “The Ultimate Fighter” season 14 finale.

In a bout scheduled for 25 minutes, that wasn’t even close to long enough. Now, two days removed from his hard-to-watch, third-round TKO loss to Michael Bisping on Saturday, we’re still waiting for an official verdict on whether Miller’s long-awaited UFC comeback will end after just one fight.

As impossible as it is to imagine that it would, UFC President Dana White doesn’t sound overly optimistic about his chances.

“I don’t know; we’ll see,” White told Heavy.com, when asked if he’d give Miller another fight. “He didn't have a good performance against Georges St. Pierre [at UFC 52] and he definitely didn't have a good performance against Michael Bisping."

Point taken. Yet it would be pretty harsh if, after a six-year absence, the UFC chose to judge Miller solely on the basis of a 2005 fight against St. Pierre and his Octagon return versus Bisping. After all, the roster is littered with guys who’ve been undone by GSP and UFC debuts (of which Miller now essentially has two) are notoriously difficult.

Not to let him off the hook for this woeful performance, but the "Mayhem" we saw in the cage on Saturday seemed a different guy than the one we'd come to expect after a 10-year, 31-fight career. A contender of his caliber deserves one more chance to prove he belongs. If he doesn’t get it, that’ll be a shame.
[+] EnlargeMiller
Al Powers for ESPN.comJason Miller, left, was holding his own with Michael Bisping -- until the second round rolled along.

If Miller gets cut now, we might never know why he wasn’t ready to go two full rounds (let alone five) at Bisping’s pace on Saturday. Was it an aberration, brought on by ring rust, an adrenaline dump or the dreaded "Octagon jitters"? Is it indicative of some larger problem in his training or, worse yet, his overall ability? Or is Bisping really just that good?

It seems worth it to get another look at Miller in order to find out.

Before the bottom dropped out on him midway through the second, things weren't going so bad for Miller. His spastic offense caught Bisping off guard in the early going and Miller scored with kicks and looping punches. He sprinted into the teeth of Bisping’s attack, basically daring the Brit to knock him out, and even took him down a minute, 45 seconds into the fight. While he never had Bisping in any serious trouble, he controlled the bulk of the opening round from something approaching the mount and should've gotten the nod on most scorecards.

That momentum may have been fleeting, and the endgame stages some of the ugliest in recent memory, but the first round -- while wild and a little sloppy -- showed that Miller can still compete. After spending the last few years making a cottage industry out of just being himself, this loss doesn’t totally undo him as a popular and marketable fighter, either. He remains a singular figure in the sport and could still be quality asset for the UFC, so long as he can right the ship in the near future.

His first fight back in the Octagon left us with unexpected questions. Hopefully, the company lets Miller stick around long enough for us to get some answers.
Michael Bisping declared "I'm one of the best in the world" after his annihilation of Jason Miller at the TUF 14 finale, and then revealed his next opponent will not be anybody that he has previously fought. More »

Diego Brandao leaves his mark on TUF

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
1:58
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Diego BrandaoAl Powers for ESPN.comDiego Brandao lived up to the potential he showed throughout the TUF season.
LAS VEGAS -- We knew that Diego Brandao had punching power.

He demonstrated that all season on "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 14, and it’s one of the reasons why the Greg Jackson fighter was a heavy favorite coming into his fight with Dennis Bermudez for the featherweight contract. He obliterated Jesse Newell to get in the house in 45 seconds. Then he greeted Steven Siler with an acrobatic flying knee, before landing a left hook to finish him in 33 seconds. He knocked out Brian Caraway in the first round, too.

Throughout these brief, punishing glimpses, it never felt like an even playing field -- it felt more like one man’s mission. Though he had fought and lost plenty in his young career (14-7), the Brandao that was rolled out in the featherweight field on TUF 14 was head and shoulders above the rest. And he only used his hands. His Brazilian jiu-jitsu that was touted beforehand remained a minefield that was never trespassed upon.

On Saturday night, it was clear that the 24-year-old wanted to continue his streak of knockouts against Bermudez at the finale. He flung the big right to that end when he got space, but in one over-zealous moment ate a straight right hand that crashed into his jaw. It was a track-stopping collision that made his legs go limp. He crumpled.

And only then did we see the full scope of “Ceara’s” potential.

In what might be the best single round of MMA action in TUF history, Brandao’s slick ground game surfaced and he turned the tables. He caught Bermudez with a beautiful armbar that was forced out of necessity. The submission was a single motion. It was almost instantaneous. From the guard. While recovering.

It was over that quickly.

To hear him tell it afterwards, the whole thing was just a live piece of destiny emanating from his faith.

“The mission’s over, you know?” he said in the postfight news conference. “The mission’s over. I’ve been in the war for three years in the United States. I don’t see my family. I try to speak English, and it’s so hard ... I tried to work so hard.”

Brandao picked up two end of the night bonuses (fight of the night and submission of the night) for a total of $80,000. He wants to reunite with his family and do charity work in his native Brazil. He’s a very likeable, very humble fighter. It’s easy to pull for a guy in those circumstances.

But on the final show on SpikeTV, which had the auspicious beginnings of now fabled Stephan Bonnar/Forrest Griffin fight that aired in 2005, he might be the first believably dangerous fighter to come out of the series in years. He is skilled wherever the fight takes place, and has a fire burning in him to bring his family to the United States. To top it off, he proved he has a granite chin -- an extension of heart. Not many people could have taken that shot from Bermudez and survived.

“In my gym I trained so hard for this fight,” he said. “I know Dennis; I think he’s coming from [a] wrestling technique, but he started boxing, and I said OK, let’s go box. And he caught me ... I waited for the moment to pull the armbar because I’m a black belt in jiu-jitsu. When I go down, I feel confident. This I’ve been training for 14 years ... when he punched, I locked, and [swept]. And [it was] over.”

This mission is over as well. But his is a promised future that’s only beginning.

Stakes still foggy for Bisping and Miller

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
2:58
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Both Michael Bisping and Jason Miller say they’re perfectly content with the circumstances of Saturday night’s “Ultimate Fighter” season 14 finale.

Never mind that they seem to be caught in the middle of the UFC’s divorce from SpikeTV and (perhaps due to the uncertainty surrounding that split) their otherwise pay-per-view quality bout has been relegated to free television and the intimate settings of The Pearl at the Palms. Never mind the fact the fight company canceled the prefight news conference and open workouts this week, appearing satisfied to ride out the end of this marriage in shared silence.

Miller and Bisping are fighters, so they don’t concern themselves much with that stuff. Or at least if they do, they don’t let on.

Likewise, neither guy will cop to being overly concerned with the stakes of their grudge match or where they stand in the middleweight rat race, which has only gotten murkier over the past few days.

Here’s what we think we know at this exact moment: Anderson Silva’s 36-year-old shoulder will likely keep him out until June, at which point the UFC may or may not be planning to showcase its 185-pound champion in a 100,000-seat mega stadium in Sao Paolo, Brazil, against an opponent still to be announced. We’d all previously assumed that TBA would be Chael Sonnen, but with each passing day it appears more and more likely the promotion will stick to its guns about The Rashad Evans Rule and not let Sonnen sit out to wait for his title shot.
[+] EnlargeGeorges St. Pierre & Jason Miller
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesJason Miller is hoping for a better outing in the Octagon than last time around.

Rumors ran hot and heavy last week that the former Oregon wrestler might face off with Mark Munoz at the UFC’s second live show on FOX, but a few days ago Sonnen went on record saying he believes he’ll get the winner of Bisping versus Miller instead. Naturally, there’s also a decent chance Sonnen is just saying stuff for his own amusement, so his words really leave us no closer to answers than we were before.

Bisping, who has been hovering on the outskirts of contender status for some time, doesn't believe a win over Miller would do much to move him up the ladder. He intimated this week that he sees this fight simply as a chance to get some added cage time, earn a little more money and shut the mouth of a guy it turned out he didn’t particularly like while they filmed a season of reality television together. By that same token, though, a loss to an Octagon newcomer, no matter how accomplished, could be disastrous for his title aspirations.

For Miller -- who returns action for the first time in more than a year -- a second run in the UFC gives him a chance to prove he’s more than just a television personality, that when he’s not dropping one-liners on out-of-shape bullies on MTV2, he has what it takes to compete at MMA’s highest level. A win over Bisping would show he’s been underrated these last few years of globetrotting and sporadic competition, while a loss (especially a bad one) would raise significant questions about his long-term future in the Octagon.

Being so preoccupied by the damage they plan to do to each other, it doesn’t seem like the fighters will care a lick about the long-term until after the fight Saturday night. Until then, they’re happy to leave such big-picture questions to fans and media types.

It’s just that, with no prefight news conference, there isn’t a great place to ask.

Notes and Nuggets on TUF 14 Finale

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
1:20
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive


LAS VEGAS -- People knew things before we did -- that’s what we suspect we know now. That’s why the fight week buildup to Michael Bisping and Jason Miller -- a fight with vague insinuations toward a high contender spot -- is unique. Unique in a short shrift kind of way for the headliners.

Traditionally leading up to a fight card, there are open workouts to attend, a news conference, a definitive place to be for the weigh-ins and media mixers. For Spike’s final broadcast show, the finale of the 14th season of "The Ultimate Fighter,” it has all the hype of a straight to DVD movie. There are acrimonious underpinnings between the UFC and Spike. Where once it was a powerful relationship full of unified presence, now you have to pay active attention to know what’s going on. The hurtful last words that aren’t being said? “We’ll always have Griffin/Bonnar.” In lieu of a news conference, the UFC held a press junket of sorts inside the Fantasy Tower at the Palms. Dana White was out of town.

Through this whole thing, Michael Bisping is and has been the odd man out. The Briton is used to floodlights surrounding his bouts, large arenas during them, and media blitzes before and after to activate his peeves. That’s only part of it. Bisping is within periscope range of a title shot, and beating Miller won’t likely advance his cause. In fact, it was originally thought that Bisping was fighting well beneath him, back when the UFC was trying to saddle him against Chael Sonnen as the coaches on TUF 14.

“Fighting Jason, I don’t think he gives me the right to fight for a title,” Bisping told ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto earlier this week. “He’s not the name. He’s not the guy to do it.”

Think about that. Bisping took 10 months off between fights to make a crab-like movement toward the title. For exposure? Doubtful. Bisping is a resident TUFer by now. This was his third stint on the show (once as a participant, twice as a coach). Maybe we’re looking at his sentence for the spitting incident that occurred against Jorge Rivera.

Of course, people have warmed to Miller’s chances over the course of the last couple of months, to the point that many wouldn’t even view it as an upset should he pull it off. He returns to the Octagon after nearly seven years, and “return” is a funny word for a guy who has but one cameo appearance in the promotion, back at UFC 52 against Georges St. Pierre. With Miller having fought in Dream and Strikeforce -- to go along with his outsized cult of personality -- this one has an interleague vibe going on that’s hard to get a firm grasp on. How does it play out?

If the week leading up is any indication, quietly.

TUF lessons from El Cucuy

Tony Ferguson (red trunks)and Aaron RileyRoss Dettman for ESPN.comBreaking through: Tony Ferguson is already leaving a mark in the UFC.

Last season’s TUF winner, Tony Ferguson, is on this weekend’s card as well. He won the season as a broadcast welterweight, and before that achievement could even sink in “El Cucuy” cut down to be a lightweight and fought Aaron Riley’s at UFC 135. How did that pan out? Riley was eating from a tube after a brutal left uppercut broke his jaw. For all the talk about TUF no longer producing threatening talent to the established names in the sport, Ferguson looks like a huckleberry.

“If you want your life to change, then don’t get stuck up in all the B.S. that goes along with it, all the people that come around -- just keep doing what you do,” he told Ariel Helwani in response to what advice he’d give future TUF alum. “Keep doing what you were doing just before you got to the Ultimate Fighter" show. Make sure that you’re still giving 150 percent inside the gym everyday, and make sure nothing gets to your head. Why? Because true champions are made that way.”

Doesn’t sound like a guy who is resting on his laurels.

Miller’s Chael moment

Anderson SilvaJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesJason Miller knew what it felt like to be taken down by Chael Sonnen long before Anderson Silva did.

Essentially Jason Miller got his chance to coach on "The Ultimate Fighter" because Chael Sonnen was still suspended when it came time to sign on the dotted line. Miller isn’t Sonnen, but he has had the pleasure of fighting Sonnen back a decade ago on something called “Rumble on the Reservation” in California.

“You mean when he double-legged me through the cage?” Miller told ESPN.com. “I got hurt from that s---, too, because I went through the bottom of the floor. We broke through the cage, and I twisted my ribs because he fell on me so hard. That was crazy. We were fighting on an Indian Reservation. I was selling tickets outside with my hands wrapped. That’s how crazy it was. It was a weird thing.

“So, yeah, we broke right through the floor. Then they tried to fix it for like three minutes, and I was getting angry, because I wanted to get [Sonnen] back for that. So I was standing in the corner going, ‘what the hell.’ And finally the referee was like ... alright, let’s continue, but don’t go over there [pointing to broken floorboards]. Avoid that spot. Fight over there [pointing to safe end]. So we had a weird gentleman’s agreement not to go over there [toward the hole]. It was kind unspoken. It was crazy.”

Miller lost the decision, but gained a piece of lore.

This time around, it's a grown-up Mayhem

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
7:23
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive


LAS VEGAS -- Things are going to look and feel a lot different for Jason Miller on Saturday night.

In a small theater like the Pearl at the Palms, Miller will have about 14 feet of serviceable space to attempt one of his famous walkouts in his return to the UFC. As the UFC curtails accompanying girls and pyrotechnics, his walkout looks doomed from the start. Since it’s a Spike show -- the final of its kind before the UFC takes its services elsewhere -- Miller might not even have a live camera on him when he does it. For a guy who just won “Ring Entrance of the Year” at the MMA Awards, he is coping with all of this best that can be expected. These are small prices to pay.

As for his forever in the making fight with Michael Bisping, his antagonist for the last several months on "The Ultimate Fighter," it’ll be only the third time a non-title main event is slated for five rounds.

So much has changed or is changing or is about to change in the promotion that he returns to, that “Mayhem” can’t help but feel right at home. He is used to flux. That’s where he’s been for the last six-and-a-half years through appearances with HDNet Fights, Dream, the WEC and Strikeforce (among others).

“I can’t point to one single similarity, because it’s such a vastly different time,” he says of the difference this time through from 2005, when he fought his one and only UFC bout, versus Georges St. Pierre. “At that time, I was like, whatever, I’m fighting some French guy. I didn’t care. I was like, he’s handsome, I’m going to knock his face off.

“But it was a different time in my life, too. When I fought Georges, I was a kid not knowing what to do. I didn’t understand life at all. I didn’t understand what I was doing. I was trying to make 170 pounds. It was, all-around, a difficult time for me. Nowadays, I feel like I’ve grown up a lot. I got to go experience the whole world. I’ve got to see Brazil and Japan and all types of locales and meet different people. I grew up. And now grown up Mayhem gets to fight.”

This version of Miller is a celebrity for reasons not entirely to do with fighting. In fact, plenty of people know him better from his “Bully Beatdown” show on MTV. He’s charismatic enough to say he can smash two Jason Statham's on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and come off as a lovable loon. For the last couple of months he was the coach on "the Ultimate Fighter," where he engaged in the usual hijinks and pranks with the ever-inflammatory Bisping, doing his lunatic eyebrow spike at each available chance.

If this is the grown up Miller we’re seeing at 30 years old, you can guess at what he was like in his bygone younger days.

And yet, no matter how mischievious he gets, Miller rarely comes across as the heel in the situation. Remember the Nashville brawl, the one he incited by rather enforcedly requesting a rematch with Jake Shields, prompting the Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate, to get all up in his mug? Hey, he was just asking for a rematch, and things escalated. If anything, his timing could have been better.

In other words, Miller is a one-of-a-kind, and it’s been a crazy jaunt back “home” to the UFC, one that Miller happily took his detours to arrive at.

“For all those crazy twists and turns, I don’t know about phase two; this might be phase three or four,” he says. “I don’t know what phase this is this time.

“But I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, maybe I could have made more money somehow. Maybe I could have changed Coke to Pepsi, maybe I could have found my car keys. But, it doesn’t matter. I’m really happy with the twists and turns it’s taken.”

For those who have followed his itinerant career through the various promotions, you know that his style is an aggressive one. Miller doesn’t let his opponents get comfortable. He likes to be right in their face the whole fight. He’s been like that against Ronaldo Souza, against Jake Shields, and against Tim Kennedy. He plans to come right at Bisping, too, whom he says is an overrated kickboxer who too often resorts to trying to outpoint opponents.

“I don’t play that game. I come forward, I come forward, I come forward,” he says. “I go for a finish. There’s no way he’s going to outpoint me. And he can’t TKO me, because he doesn’t punch hard enough. I’m just going to keep my hands up and keep moving forward. I’m not going to let him play that point game. It’s silly. I’m too much of a veteran for that, and I’m too aggressive. He can’t play that game for five rounds.”

And after six weeks of hostile back-and-forth bantering with Bisping, whom he says there’s genuine animosity toward, will the grudge outlast the rounds? Eh, Miller’s a sportsman. He predicts that stuff (probably) ends after Saturday night.

“I think we can squash it after the fight,” he says. “I would hope so. He lives really close to me. I don’t want him burning my house down.”
Jason Miller claims he knows everything about Michael Bisping's preparations for their TUF 14 showdown next week, because insiders from the Bisping camp keep offering him information. More »

TUF 14 comes closer to the show's essence

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
12:02
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
DENVER -- Michael Bisping doesn’t hate Jason Miller. If you’ve watched Bisping in his other stints on the “Ultimate Fighter” -- both as a contestant in Season 3 and as a coach in Season 9 -- you realize this is the story within the story in a series running low on plot resources. How can it be that Bisping and Miller remain civil? Traditionally, Bisping gets his dander up good and proper, whether it’s because Tito Ortiz is nurturing Matt Hamill instead of him or that Dan Henderson doesn’t go in for constant barbs (nor get bothered by them).

This time through? Eh. In Mayhem, he has the usual peeves that come along with being in close proximity with somebody for six weeks, but it’s a kind of brotherly annoyance. That’s just Miller. There’s no true malice.

Bisping admitted as much last night to a small group of media at the Paramount Theater in Denver, saying “Mayhem’s alright in small doses, but when you got to spend six weeks with the guy…” This would almost hold true of anybody. Yet, it’s a feat for Miller -- who has an atypical brand of humor -- to remain on any kind of even keel with one of the more combustible tempers in the UFC.

And honestly, in talking about the events that belong to their muzzled past and yet to everyone else’s future, both Miller and Bisping appeared more likeable. There were a few allusions to some pranks to watch out for ... but even they were quick to dismiss these as the worst of the pending clichés. They would know, after all.

Both fighters seemingly understood early that the fights/fighters themselves -- bantams and featherweights -- were all we needed to appreciate the bigger meaning of the show. If you caught the fights on the season premier last night -- 16 fights, 13 finishes, around 25 busted grills -- it’s easy to understand this kind of yielding. This time, though, it’s all about the contestants with a couple of awkwardly entertaining co-stars (Bisping and Miller), which gets it closer to the show’s original design. Given that the lighter-weight classes are the most underexposed in the game, this takes on a little more significance.

Would it have been better if Chael Sonnen were cast opposite Michael Bisping, as the UFC originally wanted? Of course. The possibility of gaskets being blown is good rare fun. But for those who prefer action over words, there are 16 better reasons to tune in.

TUF rivals Bisping, Miller fill familiar roles

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
3:12
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
Michael BispingMark Nolan/Getty ImagesCan Michael Bisping really be that passionate about disliking someone he hardly even knows?
There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which debuts on SpikeTV next Wednesday amid an unusually fierce media buildup.

As the first installment of the UFC’s popular reality show set to feature featherweights and bantamweights, it’s basically a given that this season will boast one of the most talented and experienced TUF casts in recent memory. The fights will undoubtedly also be great, as nearly any random assortment of 135 and 145-pound fighters can usually be counted on to bring it. Perhaps most importantly, season 14 marks “The Ultimate Fighter’s” swan song on Spike and UFC officials are promising sweeping changes for future seasons which -- if they work out -- could breathe new life into a product that desperately needs retooling.

Of all the reasons for hope however, I’m not sure this budding feud between coaches Michael Bisping and Jason “Mayhem” Miller is one of them.

Make no mistake, both Bisping and Miller are great fighters, are among the sport’s most intriguing personalities and a bout between the two has the potential to be outstanding, if for no other reason than as a compelling pairing of styles. They’re also sure to make adequate coaches, with their combined 56 fights and 17 years experience.

It’s just that, it rang a little hollow this week when Miller and Bisping showed on Wednesday’s media conference call for the express purpose of bickering with each other. Granted, it was entertaining, but the bad blood they’re going so far out of their way to establish simply lacks substance because (just like the rest of TUF) it’s so obviously a product of television.

Unlike previous rival coaches like season 2’s Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, season 10’s Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson or season 12’s Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck, Miller and Bisping have no preexisting beef. They admit they barely knew each other before reporting for duty on the “Ultimate Fighter” set and since they’ve never even been signed to the same promotion at the same time before, whatever friction sprang up between them while making this TV show is just that: Made for TV.
[+] EnlargeGeorges St-Pierre
Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesGeorges St. Pierre, left, and Josh Koscheck had a score to settle going into and coming out of the TUF house.

It’s not that their dislike feels staged or scripted. I’m sure after spending several weeks together during production, the animosity is real and there’s frankly no need to script anything when you’re dealing with two guys who talk as well as Miller and Bisping do. At this point though, they don’t really come off as enemies so much as two guys who know exactly what we all expect from them as opposing coaches on a reality show that’s already been on the air for 13 seasons and six years.

Remember, Bisping and Miller netted these jobs simply because we knew they wouldn’t like each other; because we knew Bisping can come off as cocky and abrasive and because we knew that the prankster in Miller wouldn’t be able to resist antagonizing him. We knew that with TV cameras filming and TUF’s contrived team format pitting them against each other and more than a dozen seasons setting precedent, there was no other possible outcome.

Miller essentially admitted as much this week.

“I noticed after the first week [of filming] that I was a bit bored, so I immediately started cranking it up so that there would be some interaction between me and Mike,” he said during Wednesday’s call. “At the end of the day, we're doing television and we need to make something happen so that the audience is engaged.”

Therein lies the rub of reality television. Is it the reality that makes the TV, or the TV that makes the reality? For that matter, is there anything wrong with sending two guys into a situation where all parties involved implicitly understand they’re supposed to come out as adversaries? Maybe not, but it’s certainly a lot less interesting that way.

At this point, I can’t help but wonder if it might have been more fascinating and unexpected if Miller and Bisping had spent all that time filming TUF and come out with nothing but nice things to say about each other.

Bisping still wants TUF 14 coaching slot

May, 19, 2011
5/19/11
8:53
AM ET
By ESPN.co.uk
ESPN.com
Michael BispingMartin McNeil for ESPN.com
Chael Sonnen has been ruled out of a TUF rivalry with Michael Bisping, so who can be next to face the tough-talking Brit? The Count will take on whomever the UFC throws at him, but he admits he would still like to head up TUF 14. More »

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