The last time Cole Miller was about to step into The Octagon, the events leading up to that moment were non-confrontational and downright cordial.
After all, Miller was about to take on longtime personal friend Jorge Gurgel during the undercard for UFC 86, so there was a lot of mutual respect between the two fighters prior to the bout and even more afterward.
The past few months with Miller’s next opponent, however, have been a stark contrast.
Miller returns to The Octagon tonight during Spike TV’s UFC Fight Night 18 after a nearly nine-month layoff because of a knee injury. If his harsh words are any indication, the Mount de Sales grad has a lot of pent up frustration to take out on his opponent, Junie Browning.
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According to Miller, Browning started a verbal spat during a mixed martial arts event in Atlanta where Browning was the special guest. After receiving a round of boos while being introduced, Browning was asked about his upcoming fight with Miller before the two had officially been put under contract to face each other.
The gist of Browning’s response was that he thought Miller’s jiu jitsu technique was overrated. In several interviews since, Browning has reiterated that point.
“I think his submission win over Jorge Gurgel was more just a mistake on Gurgel’s part,” Browning told fiveouncesofpain.com in March. “I don’t think it had anything to do with Cole Miller having slick jiu jitsu. It wasn’t really like he was really technical in setting him up with it, it was more (like) Gurgel slipped and just got caught. Anyone else he’s fought, he hasn’t really shown me anything spectacular on the ground.”
Miller has taken note of what Browning has said about him and Miller isn’t shy about firing back.
“And then in other interviews, he’ll be like, ‘I don’t understand why Cole’s trying to make this so personal. I’m just hoping for a really good fight,’ ” Miller said of Browning during a Monday phone interview from Nashville, Tenn., where UFC Fight Night 18 will take place. “He’s a cartoon character. He’s a politician. It depends on what camera is in his face for what he’s going to say.
“I saw him (Monday), and he tried to smile at me in passing. I was going to say something to him if it wasn’t for his cornermen being with him. I’m not trying to disrespect his team.”
Browning is a relative newcomer to the UFC scene. He participated in The Ultimate Fighter 8 reality show and gained a reputation for being a bit of a loose cannon. In his young fighting career, Browning sports a 3-1 overall record with only one UFC bout.
Miller’s UFC record stands at 3-1 after the win over Gurgel in July, and his overall record is an impressive 14-3.
The edge might seem to go to Miller, but Miller acknowledged that Browning’s newcomer status creates questions.
“The thing with these guys that are inexperienced, the inexperience can be both an advantage and a disadvantage,” said Miller, whose fight with Browning will be the first televised bout during tonight’s broadcast, “because these guys coming in so early in their career, they don’t know the struggle and the hardship of what it is to pay your dues to get to the UFC.”
Miller has certainly done that, and now he has even more scars to prove it. During his fight with Gurgel, Miller suffered a torn meniscus in one of his knees that required surgery.
Finding out he would be sidetracked for a while was bittersweet for Miller. On one hand, it kept him from participating in the UFC 88 pay-per-view in Atlanta. But on the other hand, it taught him to slow down his lifestyle a bit and take a breather.
“I think it was good for me because I had been going so hard for so long,” he said. “I think it was two years I was going with nothing but training. No free time. No fun time. It was straight business for two years, and I think (the injury) was like saying, ‘Hey, you need a break.’ ”
After surgery in September, Miller took it easy for about six weeks before getting back into training. He wanted to make sure, before he even put on a pair of gloves, that his knee was completely healed and ready for the rigors of preparing for a fight.
The extra time spent not training hasn’t failed him as he said he’s 100 percent ready for his fight tonight.
While proving that his knee is completely healed is important to Miller, putting all the talking to an end is more of what he’s looking forward to. Miller said if he wins, he won’t exactly be looking to shake Browning’s hand after the fight. Simply put, Miller said he doesn’t like Browning, and nothing that happens in the fight will change that.
But more importantly, it’s a chance for Miller to show how much difference there is between a newcomer who caught a break and an insulted veteran with an itch to get back in The Octagon.
“I think he’s bad for the sport. He’s got stupid dyed hair and all these tattoos all over his body. That’s not what tough guys look like,” Miller said. “That’s what bullies are all like, dudes that are very insecure about themselves. They’re not trying to have all those tattoos and do all that (stuff) because they’re fighters.
“(Fighters like Browning) are trying to convince people they’re fighters. They’re trying to convince themselves that they’re fighters.”