Jason “Mayhem” Miller has performed on some huge stages during his MMA career. He’s fought a handful of title fights in the United States, competed at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan, and he’s had success in multiple weight classes. He’s even hosted a hit reality show on MTV. But before The Ultimate Fighter 14 Finale on Saturday, he’d never fought in a UFC main event. He also hadn't fought in over a year. It showed.
Miller’s scrap was with Michael Bisping, a polarizing British middleweight who was riding a hot streak. The bookmakers had Miller as respectable +160 underdog, leading fans to believe the fight would be competitive. But after a close opening round that saw Miller control Bisping on the floor, he started to fade. He was already breathing heavy between stanzas, despite being relatively unscathed. In the second round, his takedowns became more and more telegraphed, and his style, which he jokingly deems “slap boxing,” became less of a gag and more of a reality.
Bisping’s volume punches and continuous knees to the body surely zapped some of “Mayhem’s” energy, and he deserves credit for his performance. But Miller has gone five rounds before without looking that drained. He’s never been a cardio machine, but he’s not a scrub either. What gives?
Time and time again we’ve seen great fighters wilt and underperform beneath the bright lights of The Ultimate Fighting Championship. The press, the crowd, and the pressure of fighting on the biggest stage in the world often form an adrenaline dump that overshadows the countless hours of training that fighters go through preparing for bouts.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, a huge star in Pride, admitted that he had never been more nervous than he was before his promotional debut at UFC 67 in 2007 against Marvin Eastman. It’s a pressure cooker, that octagon, and despite Miller’s experience, it looked like it got to him. He was a shell of the fighter who went five rounds with Jake Shields in 2009 or the man who submitted Kazushi Sakuraba just over a year ago.
After the fight, UFC President Dana White deemed Miller vs. Bisping “One of the most one-sided fights in UFC history.” While there may be a bit of promotional hyperbole sneaking in there, the fight did become increasingly brutal for Miller with each passing minute. His left eye was swollen and purple, his nose dripping red courtesy of Bisping’s assault.
Still, it looked like Miller was more fatigued than truly hurt. After referee Steve Mazagatti called the fight late in round three, the cage side doctor asked Miller if he was OK, to which Miller replied, "I'm alright. I'm just tired." He was battered, sure, but he popped right up and walked to his corner. He simply didn't have the energy to fight any longer.
While Bisping’s dominant victory raised his ledger to 22-3, the most impressive record might be the one held by the octagon itself. Fatigue makes cowards of great men, and the octagon’s never lost.