January 21, 2012

The second-most-fitting set of words from the UFC on FX fight telecast came not from the new cageside TV commentary team of Jon Anik and Kenny Florian but from a more familiar voice. FX had just emerged from a commercial break when Bruce Buffer took to the microphone in the center of the octagon. "Ladies and gentlemen," he bellowed, "this is the main event of the evening!"

Jim Miller had been waiting a lifetime to hear that. In the main event of his dreams, he no doubt imagined a shiny UFC championship belt on the line. That was not the case Friday night in Nashville, Tenn., but still, after an often lonesome, occasionally bumpy ride, here he was. Miller, who seemingly forever has been fighting like a main event fighter, finally was a main event fighter.

A few minutes later came some words that were even more telling about Miller. The 28-year-old New Jersey fighter had just had his hand raised by referee Herb Dean after choking out Melvin Guillard, and he turned to the camera to say something that had nothing to do with the fight. At least not his fight.

"Danny boy, I love you, kid," said Miller, pumping a fist as he addressed his 2-year-old nephew, who faces a liver transplant. "Fight through it, baby. Fight through it."

The little boy certainly has the genes to do it. His dad is rugged UFC fighter Dan Miller, and his Uncle Jim is a guy who knows how to fight through adversity. He showed that against Guillard. And in both the fight and the interview afterward, Miller also showed off his ability to keep his focus on what's most important.

The main event, a fight for redemption between two men who were top-of-the-food-chain lightweight contenders before each had his momentum derailed in a recent loss, started out as Guillard's fight. He landed a couple of flying knees in the first 30 seconds, and when Miller tried to respond with a leg kick, Guillard connected first with a left hook, dropping him. "The Young Assassin" then wailed away with right hands as Miller climbed to his feet and grabbed a leg, trying for a takedown. The try was unsuccessful, and Guillard landed a few short uppercuts before Miller finally let go.

As they separated a minute in, Miller's mustache was reddened by the blood streaming from his nose. And Guillard continued his attack, firing a head kick and landing another flying knee. That latter tactic proved to be his undoing, though, as the next time Guillard leapt forward with a knee, Miller timed the attack, caught the legs in midair and drove Guillard onto his back on the mat. It took about 10 seconds for Miller to maneuver from full guard to half, and within another few seconds he was in the midst of advancing into full mount when Guillard rolled over and got up to his hands and knees. Miller remained glued to his back as Guillard stood, and Melvin couldn't maintain his balance for long. He ended up on his side on the mat, Miller still behind him, legs wrapped around him in a figure-four body lock, arms wrapped around his chin, then his neck. The tapout was inevitable.

"I just find a way to the back," Miller (21-3) said after the rear-naked choke finish, his 12th career submission, which was announced as being at 2:04 but appeared to actually come just after the 3-minute mark. "It's something that I've always been able to do."

That makes it sound easy. It wasn't. Miller was being beaten to the punch (and kick and knee) right up until the final 30 seconds, when persistence paid off and he finally put Guillard (29-10-2, one no-contest) on his back. From there his finish was quick and methodical, and as Jim celebrated, Melvin just sat in the center of the octagon, looking stunned that the fight had gotten away from him.

Miller knew the feeling. Last August he had entered the cage riding a seven-fight win streak and was said to be one win away from a title shot. That win did not come, though, as Ben Henderson was one step ahead of him all fight long. After a unanimous-decision loss that night, it was Miller who was left staring blankly as his opponent rejoiced. So he knows what Guillard was going through. And even though this was Melvin's second straight loss, after October's quick submission at the hands of Joe Lauzon, Miller counts Guillard among the crème de la lightweight crème.

"I don't get knocked down often, and he knocked me down," said Miller. "So he hits hard, man. There are a lot of guys, I think in this weight class and probably the one above us, who don't want to fight that kid."

What about Miller? Who wants to fight him? Two of the three fighters to beat the forward-moving fireplug will square off next month when Frankie Edgar defends his UFC lightweight belt against Henderson. But the other guy to beat Miller, Gray Maynard, has no dance partner at the moment. Nor does Nate Diaz, whose stock skyrocketed with his dominant victory over Donald Cerrone last month. Miller didn't call out either of them after his win. Instead, he called out his nephew, asking him -- maybe even challenging him -- to show the family mettle in his fight for life.

But having just thrust himself back into title contention, Jim Miller did want whoever is next to know something about him. "I'm pretty confident," he said, "that I am the most dangerous lightweight in the world."

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

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